Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond insisted his side showed complete desire to be an Aviva Premiership club next season after a bonus points draw against London Irish.
Sharks equalised in the last minute at the Madejski Stadium to take the score to 33-33, securing valuable points which saw them go eight ahead of bottom-placed London Welsh.
And Diamond admitted that he knew beforehand, with survival potentially on the line, the relegation battle was always going to be a pulsating clash.
“Both sides showed how much it would mean to remain in the Aviva Premiership,” said Diamond.
“We knew London Irish were going to run everything and in the first ten or 15 minutes of the game our defence didn’t hold up.
“One-on-one tackles were poor and they went into an early lead, but we managed to get some composure back and get back into the game which was good for us.”
The Sharks looked as if they were in for a long day at the office in the opening ten minutes as Irish ran in two tries.
The first points of the day went to the Exiles’ Guy Armitage, who crossed the whitewash thanks to excellent play from Kiwi winger Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Tom Homer duly dispatched the conversion and though Nick Macleod replied with a penalty for the visitors, prop Halani Aulika barrelled over from 30 metres out soon after – Homer converted.
However, Sale hit back immediately – after Exiles hooker David Paice was sin-binned for cynically breaking up attacking play, Henry Thomas raced in unopposed from the resulting penalty and lineout.
Macleod’s conversion took the score to 14-10 to the hosts and Sale took the lead for the first time with a Mark Cueto try – unconverted – on 26 minutes.
However, the lead was short-lived as Homer notched a penalty just five minutes later, before stretching the lead to five points with another effort immediately after.
Yet the Sharks managed a third try on half-time as Kearnen Myall went over in the corner, taking the scores to 22-20 in the visitors favour at half-time.
And Sale started the second half in similar form – Macleod fired off a mammoth 45-metre penalty before taking vital bonus points with an unconverted fourth try from James Gaskell.
However, Irish came roaring back with a try on 53 minutes, with prop Max Lahiff awarded a try by the Television Match Official – Homer’s conversion taking the scores to 27-30.
Homer went on to level the score a minute later with a huge penalty from 50 metres before giving Irish a chance of protecting their long unbeaten home run with another effort.
But the hosts dramatically let the lead slip away in the final minute with Macleod firing over a vital three points, tying the game and virtually assuring safety for both sides.
Diamond – a renowned critic of officials – was full of praise for referee Greg Garner for awarding the penalty which allowed Sale to equalise.
“The decision was right to give the penalty I feel, and we had to go for the three points because every point is vital,” he said.
“The referee had a good game, and it was a really close game, the last 20 minutes were always going to be won by three or four points or drawn, and we managed to get it.”
Sale now entertain high-flying Gloucester at the Salford City Stadium next Friday knowing a victory would all but guarantee survival at the expense of Welsh.
Image courtesy of Sale Sharks, via YouTube, with thanks