Sale 7, London Irish 17: Mapusua tries reel in toothless Sharks

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The Independent Online

When Philippe Saint-André described his side's final fixture of the regular season as "a quarter-final" he probably had in mind the triumphant Sébastien Chabal World Cup variety, not the lamentable Luke McAlister version. Sadly for Sale's Gallic director of rugby and an expectant home crowd, yesterday's engagement in Stockport proved as mournful as an All Black October evening in Cardiff. Sale's season is over. Instead of preparing for the play-off semi-finals Chabal, McAlister and Co are packing for the summer holidays.

Poor Saint-André must have felt like Roy Scheider sitting on Amity Island beach as he watched the horror unfold. His players entered to the Jaws theme but the Sharks were the prey, easy meat for a London Irish side who feasted on an interception and some poor defending midway through the first half. Two tries in three minutes, by Topsy Ojo and Seilala Mapusua, took what stuffing there was out of Saint-André's nervy, fitful side. There were two scores in second-half injury time, but a second for Mapusua and a token for the Sale centre Chris Bell were mere punctuation marks to a foregone conclusion.

Sale lined up with the best defence in the league but that counted for nothing against a team who pushed Toulouse close in the Heineken Cup semi-finals a fortnight ago. Sale were out-played and their plight was summed up when the No 8 Chabal, a walk-on hero for France in that World Cup quarter-final against McAlister and the All Blacks, walked off four minutes into the second-half.

"We didn't deserve it," Saint-André said. "We didn't turn up today. We were flat. Maybe I also failed because I had this feeling during the week that the attitude wasn't right. I had a word with the players yesterday but still we weren't right. There was no urgency, no passion."

It might have been different had nerves been settled in the opening quarter but Sale made a sow's ear of a scrum in front of the posts and Charlie Hodgson fluffed a drop goal attempt. They were on the attack in the 20th minute when they messed up big-time, their scrum-half, Richard Wigglesworth, floating the ball into the arms of Ojo, who enjoyed an unopposed run to the line up the right wing.

Eoghan Hickey kicked the conversion and three minutes later Sale were caught napping again, Sailosi Tagicakibau charging 30 yards before slipping a passinside for Mapusua to score. Saint-André's men lined up for the second half 12-0 down and the score was unchanged until injury time, despite Irish having the flanker Richard Thorpe and lock James Hudson sent to the sin-bin. Salt was rubbed into home wounds when Mapusua picked up a loose ball and charged into the left corner. Bell did the same at the other end and, with Hodgson off the field, McAlister converted. For the All Black centre, it was another dark "quarter-final" day.

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