Sale Sharks survived a late fightback from London Irish to come away with a narrow victory at the Madejski Stadium courtesy of a Josh Strauss try.
The visitors consistently and aggressively bombarded London Irish with pressure in the first half and their persistence was rewarded when Strauss sprawled over the line to put the visitors 10-3 ahead at the break.
However, the tables turned in the second half as Sale showed moments of indiscipline and Tommy Bell’s boot kept the Irish on the Sharks’ tail.
The Exiles pushed for the line late on to try and steal a victory but last season’s Championship winners remain searching for a win in the Premiership since the opening day of the season.
Their nerves on the back foot showed as they fell behind early with Faf de Klerk clipping a penalty off the left post.
South Africa’s De Klerk seemed eager to get his name on the try-scorers’ list but he was perhaps a little too eager as he fumbled an attempted breakaway interception before dropping the ball on the Exiles’ doorstep later in the half.
Scottish number eight Strauss was a constant bother to the Irish line as he burrowed his way through gaps in the centre of the field. It was gaps like this that led to the first score as Strauss pounced on a loose ball to give the Sharks a deserved advantage.
The hosts were determined to add to their tally before referee Craig Maxwell-Keys blew his whistle as they tried to tunnel their way through what seemed a brick wall Sale defence.
However, a weakness was spotted in Ross Harrison, who did not roll away on Maxwell-Keys’ orders and conceded a penalty which was confidently converted by Bell.
Winger Josh Charnley could have extended the lead in the second half as he burst down the left to try to pounce on a kick but was forced to knock on under a heavy challenge from Scott Steele.
Bell then cut the arrears to four points as the Irish earned a penalty through clever pressure, before De Klerk responded with his boot after he was tackled high by Samoan Ofisa Treviranus.
The Exiles were given some hope of snatching a victory when Marc Jones was penalised for a professional foul and Bell kicked to cut the deficit again with five minutes left, but they were soundly held by Sale until the final whistle.