Premiership Rugby

London Irish Hold Off Sale Fightback To Strengthen Play-Off Bid

London Irish Hold Off Sale Fightback To Strengthen Play-Off Bid

London Irish defeat Sale Sharks 36 - 18 at the Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford, London to close in on a top-four place.

Mar 13, 2023 by Philip Bendon
London Irish Hold Off Sale Fightback To Strengthen Play-Off Bid

London Irish strengthened their bid for a top-four spot in the Premiership with a 36-18 victory against second-placed Sale Sharks. 

The London club endured a second-half fightback from the visitors, holding firm in the face of a continuous barrage of attacks to secure a fifth win in six games.

The result means the men in green are fifth, just two points shy of the top four, as the battle for the semi-finals continues to heat up. 

Not long ago, London Irish were languishing near the table's base, having fallen short in numerous close encounters in the season's early stages. However, Declan Kidney’s side has started to turn those tight losses into wins, which has catapulted them up the league standings. 

“The players showed what the team means to them in the way they went about business today. We won key moments, and it's so important how you react to those moments you do win,” Kidney told the BBC. 

“We have no pretensions about being anything special; we just want to go about our business and see where it takes us.” 

Meanwhile, Sale’s poor run of form continued as they slumped to their fourth loss in five games. They were perched comfortably in second for much of the season, but now they find themselves edging closer to a dogfight for the playoffs.

London Irish took the lead within the opening two minutes after Paddy Jackson slotted a penalty. 

Their desire to play was evident from the off, and the Irish were soon rewarded for their effects when Rory Jennings was unleashed down the left flank, following some slick handling in the midfield. The inside centre drifted towards the touchline before offloading to scrum-half Hugh O'Sullivan who ran in the game's opening try. 

Argentina veteran Agustin Creevy finished a second for the hosts, steering a rolling maul over the line, lifting the noise in the Gtech. 

Soon after, the Exiles nabbed their third of the day as Lucio Cinti launched himself into the air to take a pristinely placed cross-field kick. The airborne winger managed to soar past two cover tacklers and ride another tackle on his way to scoring. 

The Sharks did manage to get one back before the break, as Jean-Luc du Preez powered through a narrow gap and placed the ball over the line to reduce Irish’s lead to 12. 

A Sam Dugdale try raised hopes of a Sale comeback which appeared on the horizon when second-row Cobus Wiese charged down the wing, but a superb last-ditch tackle from Jennings prevented what looked to be a certain score. 

Wiese was taken off injured following the collision, which forced Sale down to 14 men as they had already used all their replacements. 

With the man advantage, Irish took back control with a showstopping try engineered by two offloads from forwards which released replacement prop Tarek Haffar try-bound. 

Before time was called, Cinti collected another cross-field kick, but this time offloaded to James Stokes, who made sure Irish ended the 80 in style. 

The finale left Sale depleted and disappointed as they stared down another loss in the league. Their director of rugby Alex Sanderson, had plenty to think about as he rued his decision to use all available substitutions long before the final whistle. 

“I've got to take a bit because I rolled the dice and put all the bench on early - that's why we went down to 14 men,” he said to the BBC. 

“The lads still had belief and talked about taking it play-by-play in the second half, and we largely dominated. Right up to that point, I think we had the momentum.” 

“They were sharper at executing, and they found attacking space from those cross-field kicks, which punished us to the tune of two tries, so I think they were well deserving of the victory.”

Written by Stefan Frost