If Leicester Tigers wanted to qualify for a place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs for the tenth consecutive year, they knew they had to keep their eye on the prize at the AJ Bell Stadium and win.
And so they did – with ease.
Early on, it seemed set to be a bigger challenge than the Tigers had initially thought. On the attack, Sale looked strong and determined to torment them, but on the flip side, Leicester proved a threat in the 5m zone; especially when a chip from Owen Williams enabled Niki Goneva to touch down to take the first points for Leicester.Â
The Sharks seemed determined not to let this affect their team moral or momentum.Â WithÂ Danny CiprianiÂ reading the game as he does so well, he created a brilliant pop to stormingÂ Sam Tuitupou.Â A penalty was later awarded to the home side and Cipriani settled it nicely.
But the Tigers took the bull by the horns – contributing some superb lines from the likes of Jordan Crane and the forwards pack, with several ‘pick and go’ phases, driving round the corner and making considerable ground, looking way more lithe than of late.Â
This gave way to a perfect inside pop from Williams to Ed Slater, resulting in Anthony Allen scoring in the corner; subsequently ruled as forward by the TMO. A possible consolation prize quickly followed, with Leicester awarded a penalty, but Williams missed â€“ one of three in the game.
Back on the attack and Sale looked sharp!Â A terrific tackle though from Anthony Allen on TomÂ Bray managed to slow down Sharks’ pace but it also saw Allen off injured.Â A blow for the Tigers pack, but they were winning the scrums soundly as Sale were penalised for illegal scrummaging on several occasions.
Tigers were driving the tank and just before half time, a skip from fly-half Williams saw him tear away from a tackle to create a try for captain, Toby Flood.Â But it was the work of Julian Salvi, his ability to clear the break down quickly; causing disarray in Sale’s defence, which took Tigers into a promising 14-3 lead at half-time.
Back out, and the Tigers appeared tantalisingly fresh and focussed and were soon on the front foot, when yet again, the powerful fly-half Williams, took an inside step to offload to Niall Morris.Â
LeicesterÂ crept closer to the try line and the prize was in sight.Â And as Sale clung on to their dignity, a magnificent off-load from Crane to JamieÂ Gibson shone the spotlight on the dynamic duo ofÂ Ben Youngs and Toby Flood, who charged over the try line to claim what they had come for Â- the bonus point try and a Premiership play-off position!
Could the Sharks salvage their pride? Not quite.
Strength from Brady did prevent Flood from scoring his third try of the game but Leicester were subsequently awarded a penalty try and the Tigers had quite literally sunk their teeth into their prey and they were teasingly in touching distance of a resounding victory.
But the last quarter saw Sale launch a comebackÂ … just a little too late you might say!
They were beginning to be creative with their running rugby, attacking back line and support numbers out wide.Â Leicester had relaxed and seemed a little too lax and this opened up a gap for Michael PatersonÂ to score Sale’s first try of the game.Â Tremendous!
Were Sale finishing with a flourish?Â
They were indeed, as two more tries followed. Henry Thomas gave a little ‘show and go’ off the line out and Johnny Leota scored a sensational try, rocketing down half the pitch with five minutes left to play.
The Sharks looked unstoppable until a late off-the-ball tackle on David MeleÂ saw Tom Arscott sin binned – game over.
To Leicester’s advantage and to ensure they sealed the deal in the dying seconds of the game, a wheeling scrum enabled Mele to score and secure a 22-42 victory in the sunshine.Â Wow.
Full Time Sale Sharks 22-42 Leicester Tigers
A sensational performance from the Leicester Tigers and particularly from Geoff Parling; returning from injury after seven months.Â His work rate, tackling and accuracy were incredible and he was rightly named Aviva Premiership Man Of the Match.
The Tigers showed strength of character at the AJ Bell Stadium. They were composed and took control early on, having the majority of possession and territory. All attributes of a top four Premiership team. The only point I will raise, was their lapse in concentration late on in the game.Â A weak spot one could say â€“ never take your eye off the ball!
But I’m in no doubt they’ll be looking to reclaim their title as Aviva Premiership Champions for 2014!
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her blog at: rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.ukrhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk