Amazingly, this dire victory put London Irish up to third place in the Premiership and, marginally, they deserved to lose less than their opponents.
With no players missing because of the World Cup - though they do have a sizeable injury list, which Declan Danaher joined yesterday - the London Irish coach, Gary Gold, wanted to create an early platform. But attracting bigger crowds on the back of World Cup euphoria is one thing; fulfilling expectations is another, and a steady downpour throughout the match did not make the job any easier.
Nor did Sale help themselves. Littered with acts of indiscipline (three men in total spent time in the sin bin) this mid-term game rarely lifted itself above the dreary and sometimes spiteful.
Sale did survive a depletion to 13 men, which happened when both their props, Stuart Turner, for retaliation, and Kevin Yates, for trampling, were dismissed in the closing stages of the first half. This was not the Sale of "Billy Whizz", which we know and love, although Jason Robinson's understudy, Vaughan Going, was again playing well.
The Madejski Stadium can make even 15 players-a-side look a little lost in the wide open spaces but 13 had a very thin look, so Scotland's returning World Cup scrum-half and Sale captain for the day, Bryan Redpath, made a good job of trying to kick his team to upfield safety, abetted by Going. As the rain increased in intensity, Sale kept the deficit down to just the three points established by Barry Everitt's two penalties to Braam van Straaten's one.
The tables were then turned as, with four minutes left on the clock and defending their own line, Irish were reduced to 14 as the replacement prop Doug Wheatley was sent to the bin for pulling down an opponent in the line-out. But a penalty for some tricky interference running by Sale saw the pressure relieved.
Charlie Hodgson's second attempt at a drop goal again drifted to the right - Everitt had suffered similarly earlier - and Irish booted their way safely back to the Sale 22-yard line.
With time to be added on, Everitt's replacement, Mark Mapletoft had no hesitation about twice taking his time with attempts to secure the game with late penalties. He failed with the first but slotted the second with less than two minutes remaining and a contest that had long ago dissolved into mediocrity dribbled to a disappointing, but still niggly, close.
London Irish: Pens: Everitt 2, Mapletoft. Sale: Pen: Van Straaten.
London Irish: M Horak; P Sackey, G Appleford, R Hoadley (N Greenstock, 72), J Bishop; B Everitt, D Edwards; N Hatley (capt), N Drotske (A Flavin, 72), P Durant (D Wheatley, 56), N Kennedy, R Casey, D Danaher (P Gustard, 25), K Dawson, P Murphy.
Sale: V Going; M Cueto (P Devlin, 25), B van Straaten (J Baxendell, 52), G Bond, C Mayor; C Hodgson, B Redpath (capt); K Yates, A Titterrell (M Cairns, 58), S Turner (B Stewart 58), I Fullarton, D Schofield, J White, S Pinkerton (A Sanderson, 25), C Jones.
Referee: W Barnes.
- More about:
- London Irish (rugby)