A thrilling see-saw encounter saw London Irish and Sale draw 33-33 at the Madejski Stadium in a result that eased their relegation fears.
A thrilling see-saw encounter saw London Irish and Sale Sharks draw 33-33 in Reading to ease their relegation fears.
Despite their lowly league positions, both sides arrived at the Madejski Stadium on Easter Sunday in good form and proved it handsomely, running in seven tries in a wild encounter.
Nick Macleod's 79th-minute ultimately settled the contest as Sale moved eight point clear of bottom side London Welsh with only three games remaining.
Irish came into the game knowing that a win would more or less ensure their safety from relegation, spurred on by a succession of impressive home victories against Saracens, Wasps and Worcester in recent weeks.
An early charge-down by Matt Garvey kept Sale pinned into their own 22 and the Exiles struck from the resulting lineout, returning wing Sailosi Tagicakibau scything through the midfield before Guy Armitage burrowed over from close range.
Sale responded with a penalty from Macleod after a bright burst upfield from Charlie Amesbury, but the Sale winger was left on his back as Irish tighthead prop Halani Aulika barged his way through for Irish's second try from 40 metres out, his ninth try of the season.
The visitors hit back with a surge upfield through Sam Tuitupou and prop Al Dickinson, Irish hooker David Paice committing a professional foul and being sent to the sin-bin as a result.
From the resulting lineout the Sharks powered over through highly-rated prop Henry Thomas, who snuck under the tackle of Bryn Evans to bring Sale back into the match.
Quick ball for Sale lead to the Sharks second try shortly after, an initial snipe from Dwayne Peel leaving Irish back-pedalling before Tuitupou caused confusion, creating the platform for the all-time leading Premiership try scorer Mark Cueto to step his way over the line and hand Sale a 14-15 lead.
Two penalties from Tom Homer has Irish back in front, before the full-back produced a colossal handling error to hand Sale possession in the Irish 22. Desperate defence from the hosts left space out wide for lock Kearnan Myall to gallop over for the visitors, Sale heading into the break leading 20-22.
Macleod opening the scoring in the second-half with a long-range penalty to stretch Sale's lead, before the rampant Sharks sealed the try bonus point, Tagicakibau stripped of possession by Amesbury who cantered down the right wing – Sale then switching the ball left for James Gaskell to cross in the left corner.
Irish twice threatened the Sale line thanks to breaks from Allinson and Marland Yarde, but both times the Sharks recovered to prevent the score and maintain their ten-point lead.
The Exiles however did find their way to the line minutes later, Max Lahiff burrowing over for Irish's third try after confirmation from the TMO.
Another long-range Homer penalty then drew Irish level at 30-30 for a scoreline more common in Super Rugby than the Premiership heading into the final quarter.
A sustained period of Sale pressure in the Irish 22 was eventually halted by a penalty at the breakdown and Irish countered – Armitage speeding his way upfield but unable to create the space for Yarde to finish off the move.
Homer's fourth penalty sent Irish into a 33-30 lead with 15 minutes remaining as Sale failed to capitalise on periods of sustained pressure.
Macleod had a crucial penalty opportunity to tie the game with only four minutes remaining but Sale continued to apply the pressure, a scrum in midfield just outside the Irish 22 handing them an excellent platform.
Another penalty chance came Sale's way with just a minute left on the clock which Macleod stroked over for to end the game at 33-33.
For London Irish:
Tries: Armitage, Aulika, Lahiff
Cons: Homer 3
Pens: Homer 4
Yellow Card: Paice
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: Thomas, Cueto, Myall, Gaskell
Cons: Macleod 2
Pens: Macleod 3
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Guy Armitage, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Pat Phibbs, 8 Chris Hala'ufia, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Jon Fisher, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Topsy Ojo, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Darren Allinson.
Sale Sharks: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Charlie Amesbury, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 James Gaskell, 7 David Seymour (c), 6 Daniel Braid, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Kearnan Myall, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Al Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Tony Buckley, 19 Tom Holmes, 20 Andy Powell, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Tom Brady.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant referees: Paul Burton and Andrew Watson
TMO: Graham Hughes
by Ben Coles