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Sale and London Irish share points in thrilling Premiership contest

By PA
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

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Paddy Jackson missed a late conversion and penalty as London Irish had to be content with a very creditable 27-27 draw against Sale Sharks in the Gallagher Premiership match at the AJ Bell Stadium.

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Both teams struggled to find their rhythm in the first half but each side did manage to touch down, with Terrence Hepetema going over for the Exiles and Dan du Preez responding for Sale, before AJ MacGinty kicked the hosts 8-7 ahead at the interval.

Jackson scored a penalty at the start of the second period, which began a remarkable series of events and led to one of the best second halves of the season.

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The match continually went back and forth, with Jean-Luc du Preez and twin brother Dan, who completed his brace, touching down for the Sharks, and James Stokes and Benhard Janse van Rensburg hitting back for the visitors.

That left the game finely poised at 22-22 but Arron Reed then moved the home side ahead with a quarter of the clash remaining.

London Irish continued to play their free-flowing game, however, and levelled through Nick Phipps. Jackson missed the conversion, though, and then a late three-pointer as they were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

The first period proved to be a competition of who could make the most mistakes and it was ultimately a frustrating opening half-hour for both.

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Sale had the better of the early exchanges, putting the visitors under pressure via their heavy-duty ball carriers, but they could not take advantage.

Lood de Jager had a try ruled out for a knock on before a poor Faf de Klerk pass, which was intended for Tom Roebuck, was intercepted by Ollie Hassell-Collins.

It was then the Exiles’ turn to get on the front foot and waste opportunities. Firstly, Hassell-Collins knocked on with the line in sight before they had a series a set-pieces in the hosts’ 22 but failed to finish.

Declan Kidney’s men did, however, finally break the deadlock and it came in thrilling fashion. Lucio Cinti did the hard work, breaking through and taking play to within 10 metres of the line, before it was finished superbly by Hepetema.

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There was a delay as the officials checked several innocuous-looking incidents but it was eventually awarded and the Exiles led 7-0.

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The Sharks had not shown the form which had seen them win four Premiership matches in a row, but they were handed a chance to build some pressure after an error from the away side.

It led to De Klerk breaking down the left and it looked as though the scrum-half was about to score until a cynical trip from Stokes halted his run.

A penalty try was slightly surprisingly not given – the officials deeming there to be enough cover – but Stokes was sent to the sin-bin.

And almost immediately the hosts had their try as Dan du Preez touched down from close range. Although MacGinty failed to convert, the fly-half did kick a penalty to hand his team the lead at the break.

Jackson then took Irish back in front early in the second half before Sale went over for the second time when Jean-Luc du Preez scored.

It was proving to be a see-saw clash and back came the visitors, who levelled matters as Stokes made up for his earlier indiscretion by crossing the whitewash.

The second half was in complete contrast to the first and Alex Sanderson’s charges were soon over the line again as Dan du Preez secured his brace, minutes after Olly Cracknell had been yellow carded for the Exiles.

With MacGinty adding the extras, Sale perhaps felt they had the momentum, but London Irish had other ideas and Janse van Rensburg’s opportunistic effort, allied by Jackson’s conversion, put the game in the balance at 22-22.

Reed then touched down for the Sharks, leaving the hosts 27-22 in front going into the latter stages.

Irish maintained their pressure and deservedly went over through Phipps. It gave Jackson a conversion to put them ahead, but his effort was awry.

The fly-half was then afforded another opportunity with the last kick of the game, but once again his difficult long-range attempt was off target.

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