London Irish 9 Sale Sharks 3
Mark Mapletoft’s injury-time penalty finally secured victory for London Irish in a bad-tempered encounter at the Madejski Stadium.
The match was always bound to be fiery after the Exiles’ Chris Sheasby was left with a fractured eye socket and permanent damage to the iris in the last match between these sides a month ago.
That proved to be the case, with two Sale props sin-binned within two minutes of each other at the end of the first half.
But despite the Sharks’ severely weakened pack, London Irish failed to take advantage and give themselves a comfortable cushion going into the second half.
In fact the home side’s only real try-scoring chance came after just six minutes.
The Sharks were under pressure and London Irish continued to make the visitors defend fiercely as they swept the ball across the field after a lineout. Fly-half Barry Everitt came close to scoring but he could not muscle his way across the line.
Instead, Irish had to settle for a penalty which Everitt converted after seven minutes.
Sale’s Braam van Straaten matched Everitt’s effort a minute later but Irish regained the lead with a second Everitt penalty after 15 minutes.
That kick proved to be the last score of the match until Exiles substitute Mapletoft ended the crowd’s agony to hand the home side four valuable Zurich Premiership points and keep them in the hunt at the top of the table.
The biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for Sale’s World Cup winner Jason Robinson.
The England international, who scored the only try against Australia in the World Cup final a week ago, received a standing ovation from the 7,488 crowd before the game but the watching rugby fans would have wished that the versatile Robinson was on the field playing rather than watching in the stands.