Rugby Union: Hercus steps up to put Sale second

London Irish 6 Sale 9
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MIKE HERCUS kicked Sale Sharks to an unlikely victory over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium yesterday afternoon and lifted his side to second in the Zurich Premiership table.

The American fly-half, stand-in for England's Charlie Hodgson, landed two first-half penalties and a 40-metre drop-goal as Sale built up a 9- 0 lead against the run of play and then clung on for victory.

Yet that was only achieved thanks to a terrible kicking display by London Irish's usually dependable Mark Mapletoft. Going into the match, Mapletoft had kicked 136 points this season, but in the first half he squandered numerous opportunities to put the Exiles firmly in control.

Mapletoft missed his first four penalty attempts - two of them from relatively easy positions - and was also wide of the target with two drop-goal efforts. He finally got it right when his fifth penalty, from in front of the posts, went over in the seventh minute of first-half injury time.

Three minutes into the second half, Mapletoft hit the target with his second penalty from seven attempts, but then he narrowly missed a long- range effort in the 71st minute which would have salvaged a draw for Irish.

The home side had only themselves to blame after dominating the game territorially, but failing to make their control count. They were denied a try midway through the first half when the winger Scott Staniforth was judged to have narrowly lost out to Sale's Oriol Ripol in the race for Mapletoft's probing kick ahead. Irish also failed to take advantage when Sale were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes after Pete Anglesea was sent to the sin-bin for stamping shortly before half-time. With Wasps losing to Newcastle, the victory moves Sale above them in the table.

Philippe Saint-Andre, Sale's director of rugby, admitted: "It wasn't pretty. It was a very strange game, but it's four points in the bag and we are very pleased.

"Mapletoft wasn't having a good day and London Irish made a lot of mistakes," he added, "but we worked hard, our scrum was good and our drive was good."

London Irish: Penalties Mapletoft 2. Sale: Penalties Hercus 2; Drop goal Hercus.

London Irish: Armitage; Staniforth, Penney, Catt, Sackey; Mapletoft, Edwards (Hodgson, 79); Hatley, Flavin (Van der Walt, 67), Hardwick, Kennedy, Casey (Strudwick, 72), Gustard (Danaher, 80), Dawson, Murphy (Reid, 61). Sale: Hanley; Ripol (Wigglesworth, 53), Baxendell (Payne, 75), Todd, Mayor; Hercus, Redpath; Sheridan, Roddam (Titterell, 45), Turner (Stewart, 45), Day, Schofield, Carter, Lund, Anglesea (Caillet, 57).

Referee: G Ashton-Jones (Hampshire).