Heavy rain which seems to inevitably descend on Barton rugby evenings greeted the players at the start. Sharks, who lost Gray and Shepherd to late fitness tests, got the scoreboard moving with just six minutes gone. Richie Vernon stole a lineout, setting up a drive which caught Irish offside. Nick Macleod slotted over the penalty.
The sides continued to test each other, and referee Davey allowed no backchat after decisions, twice moving Sharks' penalties ten metres upfield. The first try of the game came on 17 minutes after a period of forward dominance by the home forwards. Cipriani supplied the pass to onrushing fullback Macleod, who rolled his body over the line. His conversion attempt curved left of the post but an 8-0 lead was just reward for the Sharks' efforts.
Prolific Irish fly half Ian Humphreys reduced the lead with a 26th minute penalty, and the luck was not with the Irish a minute later when Cueto had a kick charged down deep in defence. Visiting skipper Danaher knocked on at a crucial stage.
Sharks' centres Tuitpou and Leota had an effective evening, serving notice of their threat on 29 minutes and following up with a try four minutes later. Powell broke from the scrum, a subtle reverse Cipriani pass followed, then Leota dummied and diverted his way over the line. Cipriani converted, as Macleod had been injured just before. The full back played on until half time before being replaced with the score standing at 15-3.
The rain eased off after the break, but so did the try scoring. Irish were under the Sharks posts but lost a chance through crossing. Verbal indiscipline cost the Sharks three points on 49 minutes, when the referee again moved a penalty ten metres upfield, enabling Humphreys to score.
Following a good Sharks' lineout drive, Cipriani kicked for the corner, then executed a superb dummy to himself but unfortunately a forward pass followed. Both sides had a spell of aerial ping pong, but Miller showed how to catch his own high ball with aplomb. Tuitupou made a massive hit on Yarde, then Humphreys made a swift break, setting up another penalty chance which he took in style. There were six points in it with a quarter hour to go.
After Cipriani missed a 66th minute penalty, he made up for it nine minutes later after the solid Sharks' scrum had been awarded a penalty. The Sharks' eight had a good night, with starting props Harrison and Buckley immense. With two minutes left, Brady burst down the right, leading to a further penalty award. Cipriani completed his 25th birthday night with another penalty to make the score 21-9, leaving the Irish needing two scores in not enough time.
North West youth had the final say, with Tommy Taylor and Rob Miller making scything runs which deserved a better finish than the ball finding its way into touch.
Steve Diamond said afterwards, "The lads paid attention to what we've done in the week, and managed to get a hard-fought win tonight. We stuck to our game plan and, had we not given the ball away six or seven times in the early stages of the second half, we could have won by a greater margin."
Scoring: (Sharks first) 3-0, 8-0, 8-3, 15-3 (Half Time) 15-6, 15-9, 18-9, 21-9.
Squad: 15.Nick Macleod, 14.Tom Brady, 13.Johnny Leota, 12.Sam Tuitupou, 11.Mark Cueto, 10.Danny Cipriani, 9.Cillian Willis, 1.Ross Harrison, 2.Tommy Taylor, 3.Tony Buckley, 4.Fraser McKenzie, 5.Kearnan Myall, 6.Richie Vernon, 7.David Seymour (capt.), 8.Andy Powell
Replacements: 16.Joe Ward (not used), 17.Eifion Lewis-Roberts for Harrison (70), 18.Vadim Cobilas for Buckley (70), 19.James Gaskell for McKenzie (74), 20.Mark Easter for Powell (65), 21.Dwayne Peel for Willis (74), 22.Rob Miller for Macleod (Half Time), 23.Will Addison for Tuitupou (66).
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