It says a lot about London Irish's current confidence levels that they feel they can drop Ryan Lamb, the Premiership's leading scorer, to the bench in order to give Chris Malone a game in a match that was worth just as many points as all the others.
They got away with the policy – just – to go top of the league but not without loss as Adam Thompstone's gruesome-looking second-half leg injury called for the immediate oxygen and stretcher bearers to overshadow what was a fine if not workmanlike win.
Sale's early running did not create a palpable opportunity and Irish were little better, though Peter Hewat did miss a snap drop goal and a comfortable penalty attempt soon after.
Hewat finally found his range on 24 minutes to give Irish the lead but Sale responded by keeping the ball in hand.
The highlight was Andy Tuilagi's jinxing scramble through midfield which showed that flair does run through Sale's veins at times. That finally led to a scrum five metres out thatlet Eifion Roberts to drive over.
Macleod missed the conversion before Irish's Sailosi Tagicakibau hit back with his sixth try of the year, following Elvis Seveali'i's pass to burst around Mark Cueto and through Ben Cohen to cross in the corner.
A last-ditch Hewat penalty extended Irish's lead at the break to 5-11 before winger Thompstone went down heavily, pointing to his left leg.
Irish conceded a penalty which Macleod kicked to narrow the gap before Irish pinned Sale down well inside their own 22 for what seemed ages.
Irish went down to 14 after Peter Richards' elbow swipe at Neil Briggs late on caused him to be dismissed.
Alas nothing came of it for Sale. That is fast becoming their motto.
Sale: Try Roberts; Penalty Macleod. London Irish: Try Tagicakibau; Penalties Hewat 2.
Sale: Vakacegu; Cueto, M Tait, Andy Tuilagi, Cohen (Kennedy, 70); Macleod, Wigglesworth; Sheridan, Schwalger (Jones, 29); Roberts, Cockbain (D Tait, 50), Schofield, Gaskell, Seymour, Koyamaibole (Briggs, 55). Replacements not used: Forster, Kerr, Cliff, Ripol.
London Irish: Hewat; Tshompstone (Richards, 45), Seveali'i, Mapusua, Tagicakibau; Malone (Lamb, 70), Hodgson; Murphy (Dermody, 57), Coetzee (Paice, 45), Ion (Rautenbach, 45), Kennedy, Casey (Perry, 72), Thorpe (Danaher 57), S Armitage, Hala'Ufia. Replacements not used: Lalanne.
Referee: G Garner (London and Wales).
Sent off: Richards (77, violent conduct).
Attendance: 6,924.Reuse content