Barry Everitt, as he has so many times before, kicked Irish to victory in the third minute of stoppage time, to end Sale's unbeaten Premiership run just as it looked as if Charlie Hodgson had saved them with a penalty on the stroke of full-time. Irish's brave effort looked to have failed as Justin Bishop made his escape from a crowded midfield as Sale were mounting a last-ditch attack. But Bishop held on too long in the tackle and Hodgson's penalty made it 16-14.
That appeared to be that and Sale were all-but celebrating a narrow victory when, in a breathless finale, Irish drove upfield, Sale fell off-side for Everitt to damn them to defeat.
Sale made a dazzling start. On their first visit into Irish territory. Bryan Redpath hoisted a kick in Michael Horak's general direction. The Irish full-back misjudged it, Steve Hanley knocked it down for Jason White to hand it on to Sebastien Bruno who scored with something to spare. Hodgson converted and though Everitt kept Sale in check with a long penalty, the force was with the Sharks.
Or it was, until the master goalkicker Everitt had another shy at the Sale posts to reduce the deficit to a point, and the Sharks almost allowed Geoff Appleford to squeeze in at the left corner. For 10 minutes Irish began to play with the confidence and freedom not evident during the first quarter, and though Hodgson added a second penalty, Hanley and Jason Robinson with some desperately limp tackling let Delon Armitage wriggle free and touch down wide on the right.
When Sale attacked next, Chris Rhys Jones squandered an overlap and Sale's expectations of reaching the break in the lead were looking a bit thin. Although conceding acres of territory, Irish held on which left Sale in arrears at the turn-round for the first time this season.
Disappointed with their first-half performance, Sale's director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André changed things around, moving Robinson to the left wing, Hodgson to full-back, with Mike Hercus taking over at outside-half.
What benefits might flow from these changes were not immediately apparent as Irish upped the tackle rate and closed down the space essential to a free-running side like Sale.
It didn't get any better for the Sharks. Their organisation disintegrated in the face of a fiercely committed defence. Mark Cueto, called into the England squad for next week's training camp, hardly saw the ball and, like Hanley before him, posed no threat at all. This despite Sale achieving parity of possession and dominating territory for lengthy periods.
Having failed with one penalty, after Everitt's third strike made it 10-14, Hodgson nailed a penalty from 35 metres with 10 minutes of normal time remaining. If nothing else 8,206 supporters - the largest Edgeley Park crowd of the season - were assured at least of a nail-biting finish.
Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, C Rhys Jones, R Todd, S Hanley; C Hodgson, B Redpath; T Woodman, S Bruno, S Turner, D Schofield, C Jones, J White, M Lund, S Chabal.
London Irish: M Horak; D Armitage, G Appleford, N Mordt, J Bishop; B Everitt, P Hodgson; N Hatley, R Russell, R Hardwick, N Kennedy, B Casey, D Danaher, K Dawson (capt), P Murphy.
Referee: S Leyshon (Bristol).Reuse content