Rugby Union: Howarth rescues revolutionaries

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Sale 30

London Irish 27

IF ONLY Sale's player power had been as effective on the field as it has been off it the Manchester club might now be closing on the Allied Dunbar Premiership title, instead of languishing near the foot of the table. As they have done so often this season, Sale were obliged to rely on the power of Shane Howarth's right boot to earn them victory.

The Wales full-back dropped a 35-metre goal in injury time to conclude a dramatic final quarter which had produced three near misses for Sale, while Irish failed to reproduce the scoring power they revealed in the first half. They had only a penalty from Jarrod Cunningham to add to the 24 points they accumulated before the interval.

The Sale players' recent vote of no-confidence in their coach, John Mitchell, is a sorry, if predictable, postscript to their troubled campaign. Mitchell, ngland's assistant coach, was apparently spending too much time with the national squad. The players revolted, so Mitchell resigned.

Not all of Sale's ills should rest at Mitchell's door. At times their defence has offered the substance of a pricked balloon. If they had tackled with the resolution Mitchell demanded, Sale would have won many more matches. Had their tackling held up yesterday Sale's margin of victory would have been considerably wider.

With a place in the uropean Cup for the top six, Irish were on target to participate in the cross-Channel stuff. But with two of their last three games against Bath and Saracens - who have played fewer matches than the xiles - both also with uropean ambitions, they are not there yet.

Irish established a 10-point lead through a try by Nick Harvey, with a conversion and penalty from Cunningham. While Sale are prone to concede easy tries - as when Rob Gallacher strode over unopposed - they also score some beauties. Kevin llis claimed their first, Howarth got the second and chipped in with two penalties and two conversions, which put Sale ahead by three points. It stayed like that until Conor O'Shea skipped through llis's limp tackle for a try at the posts. Cunningham converted to make it 20-24.

Phil Greening kept Sale on track by crossing in the corner for Howarth to convert, only for Cunningham to tie the scores with his second penalty with 15 minutes remaining. Then came Howarth.

Sale: J Mallinder (Capt); M Moore, J Baxendell, C Yates (B-J Mather, 63), S Hanley; S Howarth, K llis (R Smith, h-t); D Bell(P Winstanley, 69), P Greening, D Theron, S Raiwalui, C Murphy (D Baldwin, 55), P Angelsea, A Sanderson, D O'Cuinneagain (A Morris 9).

London Irish: C O'Shea (Capt); J Bishop, N Burrows, B Venter, J Cunningham; S Bachop, K Putt (K Campbell, h-t); M Worsley (N Hatley, 20), M Howe (R Kirke, h-t), R Hardwick (K Fullman, 66), R Strudwick, N Harvey, J Boer, R Gallacher, I Feaunati.

Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).