Rugby Union: Howarth delivers

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London Irish 25

Sale 31

TWO COOLLY struck penalty goals in a frantic finish by Shane Howarth, the New Zealander who is a leading contender to play full-back for Wales against South Africa at Wembley on Saturday, squeezed Sale home.

From the start the home crowd roared on their favourites, or "your local heroes" as the PA announcer euphemistically had them, among them Justin Bishop and Steve Bachop. "Come on Bish, well done Bash." All we needed was some bosh, and Irish hooker Richard Kirke provided it when he cuffed Simon Raiwalui early on.

That cost Irish three points to the boot of Howarth, Sale's first score after conceding a pugnacious third-minute try to centre Nick Burrows. Kirke then contrived to overthrow to the giant Malcolm O'Kelly at a line- out, conceding a lengthy spell of Sale ruck and drive which ended with Dion O'Cuinneagain going over.

Irish's other new face at half-back, Kevin Putt, settled in quickly and buzzed around the fringes to help set up a second try for Burrows. An unpromising situation in the Irish half was then enlivened by thrusts from Conor O'Shea and Bachop, and Nick Harvey plunged over.

Howarth ended the first half with a penalty goal and with Bachop and Jos Baxendell popping off to their willing backrow henchmen, the second half continued at the same pace.

Unhappily for Putt, it was his petulant knocking of the ball from an opponent's hand to prevent a quick restart which aided Sale's cause. Putt went to the sin-bin, Irish withdrew flanker Jake Boer in order to get a replacement scrum-half on and Sale earned a penalty try with a destructive shove at the next scrum.

Howarth's conversion moved Sale ahead. In a gripping last quarter two penalties by Nial Woods for Irish and a try for Sale by winger Tom Beim preceded Howarth's two decisive penalties. They preserved Sale's unbeaten record in league matches here which now stands at four matches.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows, B Venter, N Woods; S Bachop, K Putt; M Worsley (N Hatley, 68), R Kirke, K Fullman, N Harvey, M O'Kelly, J Boar (P Richards, 57; R Strudwick 68), K Dawson, I Feaunati.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); M Moore (D Rees, 69), S Howarth, S Davidson, T Beim; J Baxendell, K Ellis; P Winstanley, S Diamond (P Greening, 60), D Bell, S Raiwalui, D Baldwin (C Murphy, 69), D O'Cuinneagain (S Diamond, 78), P Sanderson, J Machacek (P Angelsea, 21).

Referee: C Reeks (Somerset)