Sale close on European spot

Rugby Union: Sale 41 London Irish 25
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The Independent Online
Sale's belief that they can play a leading part in Manchester's European odyssey gathered more momentum with this comprehensive defeat of London Irish at Heywood Road last night. Sale have done the city proud and there is every reason to believe they are quite capable of doing so on a broader stage, after reaffirming their determination to qualify for next season's Heineken Cup.

Victory enabled Sale to regain their fourth place in League One . Which means that on Saturday, Leicester's match with Harlequins at Welford Road, and Sale's game at Bath - whence they have returned undefeated in their last two visits - now have significant consequences for all four clubs.

The finale to the championship, with all its European implications, has been almost as enervating to watch as it has been exhausting to play in. This was Sale's sixth league game in 21 days, but they still found sufficient energy to put Irish away, with something to spare.

Not that Irish, with seven internationals in their side, did not present Sale with a few problems. This was certainly the case in an entertaining first half when they scored two tries in as many minutes to wrest the lead from Sale after Jim Mallinder's opening try.

But Sale's sharp finishing had not deserted them, even though Irish had gone ahead with smart tries by Richard Yeabsley and Conor O'Shea. In rapid succession, David Rees, Dave Erskine and Tom Beim touched down and Adrian Hadley added two more conversions, to put Sale 26-13 up at the break, once Woods had potted a penalty. This soon became 36-13, thanks to Beim's second try, which Hadley converted before adding a penalty.

Ray Hennessy did pull a try back for the Exiles, who never completely gave up on one another, as they prepare to protect their First Division status in the play-offs next month. Though once Rees had crossed for his second score, there was no way back for Irish, even with Yeabsley's injury-time try and Woods' conversion.

Sale: Tries Rees 2, Beim 2, Mallinder, Erskine; Conversions Hadley 4; Penalty Hadley. London Irish: Tries Yeabsley 2, O'Shea, Hennessy; Conversion Woods; Penalty Woods.

Sale: J Mallinder (capt, N Ryan, 55); D Rees, C Yates, A Hadley, T Beim; J Baxendell, D Morris (J O'Reilly, 70); A Yates, L Hewson, M Driver, D Erskine (D O'Grady, 75), D Baldwin (S Fletcher, 63), J Mitchell, A Morris, C Vyvyan.

London Irish: C O'Shea; R Hennessy, S Burns, N Burrows (J Bishop, 73), N Woods; D Humphreys, N Hogan; L Mooney, R Kellam, G Halpin (capt, I McLaughlin, 55), G Fulcher (M O'Kelly, 55), J Davidson, K Spicer, K Dawson (B Walsh, 78), R Yeabsley.

Referee: D Chapman (Scunthorpe).