Dire Sale's worst fears realised by Armitage

London Irish 38 Sale 0

There are two possible explanations for Sale's 3-D performance – dire, depressing, desperate – before a 21,000-plus gate at the Madejski Stadium, neither of them remotely palatable. On the one hand, the northerners short-changed the paying public by saving the best of themselves for Friday night's alley-cat scrap with Worcester on home soil – or, given the current condition of an Edgeley Park surface every bit as dodgy as the rugby being played on it, home sand. On the other, they really are as bad as they made out yesterday, in which case they should save themselves further embarrassment by making a unilateral declaration of relegation.

Anyone with the slightest feeling for this grand club – and that "anyone" must include all those with a trace of the rugby spirit in their sporting make-up – will find the northerners' present plight difficult to stomach. Softer than putty up front, their survival chances are entirely dependant on the best and brightest of their backs, Charlie Hodgson and Mark Cueto, working like Trojans in defence and playing like Greek gods in attack. If they can do the first bit without the ball, as they at least attempted to show here, they cannot possibly do the second. Unless the Sale forwards stop impersonating horizontal featherweights and start fighting, a season among the second-raters beckons.

Kingsley Jones, the wildly enthusiastic Welshman who succeeded Philippe Saint-André as director of rugby at the end of last term, has been watching his natural exuberance dribble away for weeks now. Yesterday, the well was almost dry. "I hate this feeling," he said before boarding the private plane of the Sale chairman Brian Kennedy and strapping himself in for what promised to be a very long short-hop flight to Manchester. We'll be playing for our lives against Worcester and a Sunday-Friday turnaround is always difficult, so coming down here with our strongest available side was a high-risk approach. It was discussed by the board, who agreed that this was the best way to go. Unfortunately, we're going home with nothing to show for the trip except three injuries we can't afford. I suppose it's a case of our darkest fears being realised."

Dwayne Peel, a Lions Test scrum-half in 2005 and no one's idea of a fool half a decade on, lasted only half an hour before smashing his shoulder and leaving the field in a state best described as dazed and confused. Carl Fearns, the outstanding young back-row prospect, followed Peel into the medical room at half-time having pranged his knee. Both are doubtful for the Worcester game, as is the ever versatile Luke Abraham, who wrenched a joint in his shoulder shortly after taking the field as a replacement.

Yet it is the psychological fall-out from a game they could easily have lost by 50 points that could prove most damaging. A back division boasting six internationals and five Lions tourists might have asked London Irish a question or two had they been given the odd bullet to fire, but the home forwards were so superior in all departments – scrum, line-out, breakdown, off-loading, all-round physicality – that Hodgson, Cueto and company were left holding the rugby equivalent of a cheap water pistol. From the very start, they were backtracking in the face of John Rudd, Seilala Mapusua, George Stowers, Steffon Armitage and Chris Hala'ufia at their most hostile. As Jones admitted forlornly: "They're lethal on the front foot. They have such an ability to hurt you."

Hala'ufia, one of the scarier South Seas forwards plying his trade in the Premiership, had himself a jamboree, stampeding away from dominant set-pieces and freeing Armitage at will. The two of them were wholly responsible for tries on 44 and 52 minutes, while the latter was heavily implicated, as was his brother Delon, in the final score by Alex Corbisiero deep in stoppage time.

Corbisiero, fresh back from long-term injury, is quite something for a loose-head prop: certainly, his quick-thinking contribution to the Exiles' bonus-point try, completed by the full-back Peter Hewat, was precisely the kind of thing that gives new-age front-rowers a bad name among the cauliflower-faced nasties of yesteryear. How the visitors must crave a Corbisiero of their own. Not to put too fine a point on it, they would kill for anyone capable of holding his own at the set-piece. Phil Keith-Roach, the great scrummaging technician who helped knock England's World Cup-winning unit into shape, is currently on the coaching staff. Against Worcester, they might consider playing Phil on the loose head, Roach on the tight and Keith at hooker.

While the weekend blanks drawn by Worcester, Leeds and Newcastle helped Sale to a degree – the four strugglers are still covered by as many points, with no change in league position – the Exiles have moved into a play-off position at the expense of Wasps, whom they visit in six days' time. In this mood, they will push the former champions terribly hard. "We're not in this competition to make up the numbers, but to be there when things are decided," said their head coach, Toby Booth.

With Ryan Lamb finally finding his range at outside-half and Steffon Armitage playing with the boundless energy of a man intent on proving a whole series of points to the England coaches who continue to marginalise him – his late double tackle on Mathew Tait and Ben Cohen was nothing short of sensational – a second successive final is a distinct possibility.

Scorers: London Irish: Tries S Armitage (2), Rudd, Hewat, Corbisiero. Conversions Lamb , Malone. Penalties Lamb (3).

London Irish: P Hewat; J Rudd, E Seveali'I (T Homer, h-t), S Mapusua (M Catt, 71), D Armitage; R Lamb (C Malone, 71), P Hodgson; D Murphy (A Corbisiero, 68), J Buckland (D Coetzee, 72), F Rautenbach (J Tideswell, 68), K Roche (M Garvey, 60-62), R Casey (capt, Garvey 72), G Stowers, S Armitage, C Hala'ufia (R Thorpe, 68).

Sale: M Cueto; D James, M Tait, D Bishop, B Cohen; C Hodgson (capt, (C Leck, 53)), D Peel (R Wigglesworth, 31); G Kerr (L Imiolek, 47), M Jones, J Forster (M Halsall, 47), B Cockbain (R O'Donnell, 43), S Cox, C Fearns (L Abraham, h-t, J Kennedy, 59), D Seymour, S Koyamaibole (M Schwalger, 53).

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003