Irish profit from Sale's all-round weakness

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The Independent Online

The notoriously dodgy Sale line-out worked rather sweetly at the Madejski Stadium yesterday afternoon, thus proving that the age of miracles is still with us after all. Few who witnessed the northerners' embarrassing problems in the ball-winning department against Saracens eight days previously could have imagined that Bernard Jackman, a Dubliner playing against his own kind, would find his jumpers with such unerring accuracy. On this evidence, Jackman's place in the middle of the Sale front row is secure for the remainder of the season, if not longer.

The notoriously dodgy Sale line-out worked rather sweetly at the Madejski Stadium yesterday afternoon, thus proving that the age of miracles is still with us after all. Few who witnessed the northerners' embarrassing problems in the ball-winning department against Saracens eight days previously could have imagined that Bernard Jackman, a Dubliner playing against his own kind, would find his jumpers with such unerring accuracy. On this evidence, Jackman's place in the middle of the Sale front row is secure for the remainder of the season, if not longer.

Which would be fine and dandy for the 24-year-old Ireland A hooker were it not for the fact that nearly every other area of Sale's game has suddenly gone to pot. Having ensured that the pressure area of his game went largely to plan, Jackman must have been profoundly disconcerted to see a dozen other things go horribly wrong. Sale were pointless, both literally and metaphorically, for an entire hour and it now appears that their early-season victories over Bath, Gloucester and Bristol were red herrings of an unusually crimson variety.

London Irish did not tear up too many trees either, but they were immeasurably more effective than their visitors. Kieron Dawson damaged Sale's fragile morale with a resourceful display of breakaway banditry that allowed him to turn over possession almost at will, while Tabai Matson damaged them physically with some big-hit work in defence. There were also flashes of class from Mike Worsley, a prop whose pace must leave him in seriously bad odour with the Front Row Union, and an injection of know-how from Kevin Ellis and Jarrod Cunningham at half-back. Ellis, "an old head on old shoulders" according the the Exiles' coach Dick Best, looked far sharper than Bryan Redpath, his opposite number, but then the Irish forwards were rather more adept at presenting him with workable possession.

The home side set out their stall from the kick-off, stampeding into the rucks in large numbers, working the fringes with a passion and backing Ellis and Cunningham to kick them into the hot spots in the Sale 22. To resist them, the visitors required boldness and discipline in equal measure. They had neither. Steve Hanley, their international left wing, was flakey in the extreme and his rampant insecurity led directly to Eddie Halvey's opening try on 14 minutes. Hanley coughed up possession inside his own half and then fly-hacked the ball into touch under pressure from Justin Bishop. From the line-out, Halvey was washed over the Sale line in an ocean of green.

Cunningham's supremely reliable boot stretched the margin to 13 points and it was not until first-half stoppage time that Dan Harris, the Sale centre, threatened a riposte. Harris was tap-tackled by Ellis, whose defensive commitment was right up there in the George Gregan class, and when Niki Little redoubled the northerners' attacking effort by working Norm Rusk into space near the right corner flag, there was an equally meaningful try-saving assault from Dawson. At that moment, Sale knew they were on the slippery slope to nowhere.

A third penalty from Cunningham 12 minutes into the second half gave the Exiles a 16-point lead and although Mel Deane cottoned on to Little's dinky chip to open the Sale account, another Hanley error left them even further up the creek without a paddle in sight. The poor soul has gone from penthouse to outhouse in the space of 18 months and it was easy to see why as he attempted to run the ball out of his own half early in the final quarter. Instead of stepping away from the muscular double-whammy midfield partnership of Matson and Jason Wright, he somehow sidestepped into them instead. Matson robbed him of the ball, Dawson hoovered up the debris and Justin Bishop disappeared down Hanley's own wing for the killer score.

A late exchange of tries between the two captains, Conor O'Shea and Alex Sanderson, meant nothing to the game and even less to Glenn Ross, the Sale coach, whose complexion had turned deepest purple long before the final whistle. "I don't care who you are or where you come from," he fumed after a lengthy sackcloth and ashes session in the away dressing room. "If you can't manage the basic rugby skills of ball protection and presentation, you'll never make anything happen. Some of the things I saw out there were unacceptable." This week's training at Heywood Road should be a real bundle of laughs.

Scorers: London Irish: Tries Halvey, Bishop, O'Shea; Conversions Cunningham 2; Penalties: Cunningham 3. Sale: Tries Deane, Sanderson; Penalty Little.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, T Matson, J Wright, P Sackey; J Cunningham, K Ellis (K Campbell 66); M Worsley (N Hatley 56), R Kirke, S Halford (R Hardwick 56), R Strudwick, G Delaney, E Halvey (D Danaher 37), K Dawson, C Sheasby.

Sale: V Going; M Moore, M Deane, D Harris (J Baxendell 49), S Hanley (S Davidson 68); N Little, B Redpath; A Black (J Thiel 49), B Jackman (N Rusk 69), D Bell, G Manson-Bishop (S Lines 49), A Whittle, P Anglesea, R Appleyard (R Wilks 49), A Sanderson (capt).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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