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The visitors scored four tries to claim a crucial bonus point to add to the two points they claimed for the draw. Irish crossed for three tries and at one point clawed their way back from 10 points down to lead by three points with 15 minutes remaining. However a late Nick Macleod penalty ensured Sale’s trip to Reading was worthwhile.
Irish got off to a dream start against their opponents from the North-West with a try on three minutes. The Irish pack laid the platform from the lineout and Pat Phibbs released the ball to Tagicakibau, who was back to his familiar position on the wing. The powerful Samoan broke through three challenges before being tackled a metre out from the try line. After a quick clean out, Guy Armitage was on hand to receive the pass from Phibbs and dive over for a try. Homer converted to give the Exiles the early advantage.
Nick Macleod cut the hosts lead to just four points with a long range penalty on seven minutes after an infringement at the ruck. The Irish response was immediate and resulted in another score. Halani Aulika sniped from the base of the ruck and ran in for a try from 30 metres, fending off the attempted tackle of Charlie Amesbury in the process. Homer again converted to put Irish 11 points clear.
If the opening 10 minutes were outstanding then the following 20 minutes belonged to Sale Sharks. The Exiles lost David Paice to the sin bin and that, combined were lapses in defence, allowed the Sharks back into the contest.
Firstly Henry Tomas dived over from a well worked forward move and then Mark Cueto added to his Premiership try scoring tally with a try on 28 minutes to put the visitors in the lead.
Irish regained their composure 10 minutes before the break and took back the lead with two Homer penalties, one of which was from over 50 metres. However Sale snuck in for their third try on the stroke of half time. Macleod converted to give the visitors a half time lead of 22-20.
Sale came firing out of the blocks in the second half and kicked a penalty and scored their bonus point try through James Gaskell to take a 10 point lead. Irish replied with a try from Max Lahiff and a third penalty goal from Tom Homer to level the scores with just over 20 minutes remaining. Lahiff’s try was his first for London Irish.
Homer kicked his fourth penalty goal on 65 minutes to put his side back in front and leave a pulsating finish. To their credit Sale never gave up and were rewarded with Macleod’s late penalty goal.
Irish travel to Sandy Park to take on Exeter Chiefs in two weeks’ time in Round 20 of the Aviva Premiership.
Score sequence (London Irish first): 7-0, 7-3, 14-3, 14-10, 14-15, 17-15, 20-15, 20-22, 20-25, 20-30, 27-30, 30-30, 33-30,33-33
Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Armitage (3), Aulika (10), Lahiff (53); Conversions: Homer (3); Penalties: Homer (32, 34, 56, 65) Sale Sharks: Penalties: Macleod (7, 44, 80); Tries: Thomas (20), Cueto (28), Myall (40), Gaskell (46); Conversions: Macleod (2)
15. Tom Homer; 14. Marland Yarde; 13. Guy Armitage; 12. Shane Geraghty (rep: Topsy Ojo, 74); 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau (rep: Jonathan Joseph, 64); 10. Ian Humphreys; 9. Pat Phibbs (rep: Darren Allinson, 9); 1. Max Lahif (rep: Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 77); 2. David Paice (rep: Scott Lawson, 74); 3. Halani Aulika (rep: Leo Halvatau, 40); 4. George Skivington (Captain); 5. Bryn Evans; 6. Matt Garvey (rep: Jebb Sinclair, 74); 7. Ofisa Treviranus; 8. Chris Hala’ufia (rep: Scott Lawson, 23-29, Jon Fisher, 40)
Replacements: 16. Scott Lawson; 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa; 18. Leo Halavatau; 19. Jon Fisher; 20. Jebb Sinclair; 21. Topsy Ojo; 22. Jonathan Joseph; 23. Darren Allinson
15. Cameron Shepherd; 14. Charlie Amesbury; 13. Johny Leota; 12. Sam Tuitupou (rep: Tom Brady, 60); 11. Mark Cueto; 10. Nick Macleod; 9. Dwayne Peel; 1. Alasdair Dickinson (rep: Ross Harrison, 53); 2. Marc Jones (rep: Tommy Taylor, 53); 3. Henry Thomas (rep: Tony Buckley, 65); 4. Kearnan Myall; 5. Andrei Ostrikov; 6. Daniel Braid (rep: Richie Vernon, 57); 7. David Seymour (Captain); 8. James Gaskell
Replacements: 16. Tommy Taylor; 17. Ross Harrison; 18. Tony Buckley; 19. Tom Holmes; 20. Richie Vernon; 21. Nathan Fowles; 22. Danny Cipriani; 23. Tom Brady
Referee: Greg Garner