Arriving at an hour before kick-off, my dad and I took our places in the North BMI Healthcare stand, John Smiths in hand, to examine the impressive stadium and watch the kickers practice. This provided one of my early highlights of the evening when my Dad attempted to catch one of Humphreys' practice conversions, with his beer-free hand and spilling his pint everywhere in the process, to the full amusement of both myself and the various Irish fans behind us!
Since their incredible comeback against Cardiff in the Heineken Cup last month, the Sharks performances have improved week on week but we were still missing that all important win. The previous week's frustrating loss against Worcester showed that the Sharks clearly possess the ability to win, but a lack of discipline and far too many loose tackles saw the game slowly taken off us, leaving Sale with nothing but a sour bonus point for their efforts. However everything changed on Friday.
The game got off to a very shaky start for the Sharks with Cipriani's first attempted clearance charged down from the kick off. However the game settled quickly, with both teams sharing possession and playing a good running game in the first half. The first points of the night went Sales way, with fullback Macleod slotting over a penalty to start what was a dominant and impressive first half.
The first try of the night was the result of an exciting back move with Cipriani playing a vital role, leading Macleod to cross the whitewash to put Sale up 8-0.
Irish fought back hard, earning a kickable penalty to reduce the lead to 5 and after yet another charged down clearance attempt, it looked as though the Sharks would yet again squander their vital early lead. Fortunately though, the wet weather meant Irish captain Danaher knocked on killing their momentum.
The stadium was in fine voice cheering on the attacking Sharks and the noise doubled when Jonny Leota crashed through the Irish defense, following a dummy pass, for Sale's second try of the half. With a successful Cipriani conversion, the Sharks had an impressive 15-3 half-time lead.
The second half saw a determined Irish keen on ruining this important lead the Sharks had earned through a brilliant first half. However the second 40 saw more pointless down field kicks from both teams to the frustration of all who wanted to see the Sharks solid backs run the ball.
The next two scores went the way of the visitors with more frustrating penalties given away; with Humphrey successfully kicking both it felt the momentum was turning the way of the Irish. With 15 minutes remaining the score was 15 - 9, with the 6 point margin being most uncomfortable for a leading side. However Cipriani, who celebrated his 25th birthday on the day, slotted over two late penalties to confirm the win and most importantly, deny second from the bottom Irish, a bonus point.
With the final whistle, the stadium was on its feet to celebrate the team's fine performance and our first win of the Premiership season. Whether it was down to the coaching reshuffle or if the luck had finally gone our way, it was a precious win and an impressive one at that. The Sharks defense had denied Irish a try all evening.
For my first experience of the Sharks, I had a brilliant night and the fact I was there to experience such a vital match topped it off. I'm sure I shall be back very soon to join the regulars with the echoing loops of "SAAAYUUUUUL"
By Rupert Mountjoy - @rupertmountjoy on Twitter
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