Sale suffer Irish defeat
Sale's hopes of qualification for next season's European Champions Cup were dealt a hammer blow as they went down to a surprising 25-23 defeat at the Madejski Stadium.
Sale still remain in seventh position but they lost ground on most of their rivals and have only themselves to blame for this disappointing result as they made too many critical errors.
Irish scored three tries through Alex Lewington (two) and Andrew Fenby with Chris Noakes adding two penalties and two conversions.
Tom Arscott scored a brace of tries for Sale as Mike Haley claimed the other with Danny Cipriani kicking two penalties and a conversion.
Prop, Richard Palframan, made his first Premiership start the hosts with Jebb Sinclair recalled in the back row. Shane Geraghty was an absentee with Chris Noakes included at fly-half and Fergus Mulchrone in the centre. Scott Steele was a late withdrawal after failing a fitness test with Darren Allinson coming in at scrum half.
Sale's starting line-up was unchanged from their win over Gloucester but hooker, Marc Jones, returned on the bench.
Straight from the kick-off, Irish made simple errors, giving the visitors a platform to attack and with Cipriani pulling the strings, Sale created an overlap providing Arscott with an easy run-in.
Irish missed an early opportunity for points by declining to take a kickable penalty and it proved the wrong option as their attacking line-out failed to provide any dividend.
Irish suffered a blow when they lost lock Richard Skuse to injury with Luke Narraway coming on as his replacement.
The opening period was played at a frenetic pace with Irish struggling to cope as Sale were all action, moving the ball at every opportunity, displaying some extremely slick handling.
However against the run play, Irish produced an excellent movement with Allinson, Narraway and Fergus Mulchrone all prominent and they succeeded in winning a penalty, which Noakes kicked to leave his side trailing 5-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Noakes then rewarded a period of pressure from Irish to kick his second penalty as it was now the turn of the visitors, to make the elementary errors. Sale were also conceding a number of penalties at the scrum area and from one of these, Noakes should have put Irish further ahead but his attempt was off target.
After 33 minutes, Irish prop, Tom Court, was sin-binned for dragging down a driving line-out and Sale took immediate advantage when Haley outflanked the Irish cover defence to score a well-created try.
With the last kick of the half, Noakes attempted a penalty from inside his own half. It fell short but for some inexplicable reason, Cipriani chose to run the ball from within his own 22 and his pass to Haley was fumbled by the full back.
Irish capitalised with Fenby seizing the loose ball to race away for the try, which Noakes converted for a 13-10 interval lead.
Court returned but Irish were soon back down to 14 men when Blair Cowan was yellow carded for a deliberate offside with Cipriani making no mistake with the resulting kick to tie up the scores.
Sale took further advantage of Cowan's absence to score their third try and Arscott's second. The wing again outflanked the home cover but the scoring pass from Haley looked suspiciously forward.
Irish fought back and they appeared to have scored when a driving maul crashed over the visitors' line but the TMO was unable to confirm the grounding.
It did not matter for long as Sale's Chris Cusiter was yellow carded which give Irish a hance to score their second through Lewington.
Topsy Ojo was the next to receive a yellow card, this one for dangerous play but Irish overcame this setback when Lewington brushed aside some weak tackling to score his second. Noakes converted to give Irish a 25-20 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Cipriani kicked his second penalty to set up a tense finish but Sale continued to make mistakes at crucial times as Irish held on.