Irish keep play-off hopes alive
April 16, 2011
Irish keep play-off hopes alive%]
London Irish flanker Steffon Armitage responded to the news of his imminent departure by steering the Exiles to a 34-20 bonus point win over Sale at the Reebok Stadium.
The Toulon-bound openside capped a superb display with his side's all-important fourth try in the final seconds of a bruising contest played out in front of a record 16,348 fans at the home of Bolton Wanderers FC. First half tries from winger Topsy Ojo, hooker David Paice and fly-half Daniel Bowden had put the visitors on course for a comfortable victory but Sale clawed their way back into the contest with tries from flanker Sean Cox and lock Wame Lewaravu only for Armitage to cruelly deny them any return for their efforts.
Irish's early adventure failed to pay a dividend and instead it was Sale who were handed the first scoring opportunity after the Exiles were punished at the breakdown. Hodgson's long range kick had the legs but lacked the required direction and Homer suffered from the same shortcomings when he was afforded his first shot at goal a few minutes later.
Ojo was a little more clinical in claiming the opening try of the game just short of the quarter hour. Sale looked to force the ball down the short side but the Exiles winger pounced on a loose pass from Hodgson before coasting in to score under the posts with Homer adding the extras. Sale were not deterred and kept the ball in hand to work an opening for winger Will Addison only for his pass to flanker James Gaskell to sail into touch. And they continued to fluff their lines with Hodgson's next penalty attempt midway through the half also sailing wide of the posts. But he finally found his range after Irish loose-head Alex Corbisiero was penalised at scrum-time.
Steffon Armitage set about restoring his side's lead with a superb linebreak to take his side deep into the Sale 22. The hosts scrambled in defence to deny him, and his support in the form of brother Delon, but they infringed in doing so with Homer slotting the simple penalty.
Ojo was the next to cause concern in the Sale 22 and a chip through from fly-half Dan Bowden forced centre Chris Bell to carry the ball over his own goal line and concede the attacking scrum. Centre Seilala Mapusua was held up in midfield before the forwards remedied the situation and their patience and precision was eventually rewarded with a try for Paice who burrowed over with a little help from lock Nick Kennedy. Homer added the conversion and he would have another before half-time following the Exiles' third try.
Bowden collected the ball in midfield and exploited a defensive lapse from prop Eifion Roberts before dummying fullback Nick Macleod and crossing for a well-worked score that left Irish firmly in control at the break.
Sale picked up the tempo following the re-start and when Irish were penalised for not rolling away in the shadow of their own posts Hodgson was able to reduce the arrears. And it could have got better for the hosts had Lewaravu not spilled the ball a few moments later with play opening up out wide.
Sale's Neil Briggs is tackled by London Irish's Alex Corbisiero at the Reebok Stadium © Getty Images
A superb long range penalty from Homer robbed Sale of some of their momentum but they were soon on the front foot again with Hodgson opting to kick the next penalty to the corner for a lineout. Irish repelled the first forward drive but were penalised to hand Sale another chance only for flanker Carl Fearns to knock on in contact. But Corbisiero was at fault again at the resulting scrum to hand Sale yet another opportunity to redress the balance.
But Sale failed once again to capitalise with Koyamaibole spilling the ball as he attempted to stretch for a score. Pressure at the next scrum saw them reclaim possession and Koyamaibole turned the screw with a pick and drive. But he lost control of the ball as he looked to claim the try with the Television Match Official required to confirm his complacency.
Handling errors often blighted Sale's best efforts in attack but the visitors' indiscipline continued to offer them opportunities. And when the next penalty was kicked to the corner the driving maul finally came up trumps with Cox claiming the score and Hodgson kicking the conversion.
That success gave the home side further hope and they pounced for their second try in as many minutes. Prop Henry Thomas and hooker Neil Briggs combined well down the shortside to put Lewaravu away and the rangy lock had the pace and the power to carry him through Ojo's tackle and over for the score.
Hodgson's conversion brought Sale back to within a converted score and it looked as though they may earn at least a losing bonus point when Homer was wide with his next penalty effort after a high tackle from fullback Paul Williams on Bowden.
But with the clock running down, Irish went looking for a bonus point try and one final drive saw the Exiles' pack rumble the ball over with Steffon Armitage dotting the ball down for what could prove to be a crucial score in the story of the Exiles' season.
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