Ireland flanker David Wallace touched down with 14 minutes remaining to hand holders Munster a 24-16 victory after Sale staged a brave second-half fightback in yesterday's Heineken Cup Pool One encounter.
Munster led 13-6 at the break and looked to be in total control but the Sharks hit back and the scores were locked at 16-16 when the Limerick-born flanker crossed in the right corner to edge the visitors back in front.
The Magners League outfit were forced to play out the remaining eight minutes with 14 men after centre Lifeimi Mafi was sin-binned for a high tackle on Sharks replacement Mathew Tait.
That made for a fraught ending but the reigning European champions – who beat Toulouse at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in last season’s final – had the final say when Ronan O’Gara claimed a drop-goal from distance to leave the visitors home and dry.
The Irishmen confirmed their pedigree with a stellar first-half display which should have reaped far greater reward than a try from full-back Paul Warwick.
A 13-6 interval advantage in the visitors’ favour did scant justice to their dominance of a Sale side who could not back up their impressive demolition of Clermont Auvergne.
O’Gara and Tomas O’Leary dovetailed effectively and their potent half-back partnership offered the likes of Keith Earls and Mafi the opportunity to showcase their running skills from deep.
Sale began encouragingly enough – Luke McAlister missed a penalty and then converted one to put his side 3-0 ahead after three minutes – but Munster soon began to move through the gears.
A penalty from O’Gara drew them level in the 11th minute and five minutes later they conjured a delightful try which saw O’Gara find Alan Quinlan with a neat short offload to his left and he in turn found Warwick who crossed in the corner.
O’Gara added the extras and Munster threatened to run riot with a series of outstanding moves from the middle of the park.
In the 20th minute, a brilliant long-range drop-goal from Warwick extended their lead and then came close to doing likewise with another similar effort which fell just short.
McAlister’s second penalty kept Sale in contention at 13-6 at half-time and the in-form Kiwi’s brilliant dummy and underarm offload almost put Neil Briggs clear shortly before the break.
Another penalty from O’Gara extended Munster’s lead shortly after the restart but Sale were undaunted and they drew level by the 57th minute.
First, McAlister’s third penalty cut the deficit by three points and then excellent work from Chris Jones allowed Dean Schofield to bustle clear for a try which McAlister converted.
O’Gara then missed a penalty but he orchestrated the move which Wallace finished off and although O’Gara could not convert the try – and Mafi was sent to the bin in the 72nd minute – Munster held firm.
The influential O’Gara claimed a late drop-goal as Munster ended the game strongly in front of a bumper crowd of 10,928 – Sale’s biggest-ever attendance.