Sale Sharks took a big step towards Aviva Premiership safety with a crucial bottom-of-the-table win over London Welsh at the Kassam Stadium.
A dramatic finale saw Sale sneak home by a point as the lead changed hands four times. The result leaves the Sharks one point behind 11th-placed London Irish and three in arrears of Welsh.
Wing Phil Mackenzie got the Exiles’ only try, with scrum-half Alex Davies kicking four penalties and fly-half Gavin Henson adding two penalties and a conversion. Sale’s points came via tries by scrum-half Will Cliff and flanker Daniel Braid with fly-half Danny Cipriani landing three penalties and two conversions and Nick Macleod one penalty.
Spice was added to the game at fly-half where former Wales star back Henson was opposite ex-England ace Cipriani. It was Cipriani, who won the last of his caps in 2008, that turned on the style to put Sale in front at the break with his boot and a vital contribution to the first try.
The Sharks’ fly-half booted his first penalty from 25 metres after Welsh were accused of illegally wheeling a scrum before Davies returned the compliment to level the game. As the half wore on, Welsh got their act together with the pack, particularly the front-row of Franck Montanella, Neil Briggs and Paulica Ion, finding space for some telling runs.
The pressure forced Sale to give away kickable penalties which Davies gratefully received from short range and Henson hammering over a 50-yarder on 32 minutes. It put Welsh 12-3 ahead, but they went into the interval a point behind. Cipriani landed another penalty with six minutes to go and then started a great move for Cliff’s touchdown.
Sale turned over a Welsh attack that gave Cipriani the chance to race downfield. He linked with wing Charlie Amesbury before receiving the ball again on the Exiles’ 22, making ground before laying off the score that he also converted. It was great opportunism by the Sharks that gave them the chance to build in the second half. But the ten minutes after the break was manic as Sale opened up an eight-point gap before the Exiles clawed that back and some more.
Full-back Cameron Shepherd sent Baird over for a Cipriani-converted touchdown for the Sharks, but Davies landed his fourth penalty to reduce those arrears to five points. Then a lovely ball by Henson inside the visiting 22 sent wing MacKenzie over from 15 metres, with the conversion and a further penalty by the Welshman giving the Londoners a five-point cushion.
But Sale would not lay down and Cipriani’s third penalty brought the Sharks back within striking distance.
Welsh almost got over again when hooker Neil Briggs went over under a pile of bodies, but referee JP Doyle was unsighted and, with no television match official to judge, he called a scrum five. That proved a crucial decision for Welsh as Nick Macleod, who had come on for Cipriani, booted a penalty from in front of the posts and, despite a desperate finish by the Exiles, Sale held on.