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).

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?