Rugby Union: Fletcher's red card fires cubs

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The Independent Online
Leicester 18

Sale 3

SADLY FOR a much depleted Leicester, and their new sponsors Vauxhall, all the trumpeting and razzmatazz for the champions' first home match of the season was somewhat muted by the unfortunate sending-off of Tigers' lock Neil Fletcher after some half an hour of a fairly poor quality Allied Dunbar Premiership match at Welford Road.

It looked a harsh decision by Yorkshire referee Stuart Piercy, who had to consulted his touch judge Chris White, also an experienced referee. The red card revealed that neither was clear on what had happened. Fletcher carried the can for an unsavoury incident involving team-mate Derek Jelley (who only tried to help a colleague in trouble) and Sale players Pete Anglesea, who seemed to throw the first punch, and flanker Alex Sanderson. The sin bin for all four would have been the best solution, but as someone in the 8,000 plus crowd said, that smacked too much of common sense.

Fletcher's loss merely fired up Leicester and the last 10 minutes of the half saw the home side increase their lead, albeit by another Tim Stimpson pen-alty, the third of his six successful kicks out of nine. The game's total of 26 penalties reflected the game's disjointed nature, as did yellow cards for Sale's Chris Murphy and Mark Tinnock.

Tigers manager Dean Rich-ards noted gloomily before the kick-off that for the first time in his memory Sale fielded more internationals (five) than Leicester (four) - no surprise since the Tigers lost fully 11 internationals to the World Cup - although the balance was restored as Stuart Potter replaced debutant Stuart Abbot after 64 minutes.

That absence of class and the nerves of the very raw Tigers led to many anxious moments. The last time they lost a league match at home was at the end of 1997. What they lacked in numbers the so-called Tiger Cubs more than made up for in spirit. The second half saw a metamorphosis. They defended brilliantly and counter-attacked with venom and velocity. How Craig Joiner did not go over after powering through in the 58th minute was as mysterious as some of Mr Piercy's decisions.

But neither he nor torrential rain could extinguish the flames as the Tigers burned brighter and brighter. Their back row of Lewis Moody, Paul Gustard and Will Johnson snarled, snapped, grappled and grabbed at everything. Sale continued to waste golden chances or obligingly transgress in range of Stimpson's mostly metronomic boot.

Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, C Joiner, S Abbott (S Potter, 64), N Ezulike; P Howard (A Goode, 75-78), J Hamilton; P Freshwater (K Fourie, 53), D West (capt), D Jelley, N Fletcher, D Zaltzman (P Short, 80), P Gustard, W Johnson, L Moody.

Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, B-J Mather, A Blyth, S Davidson (J Shaw, 78); J Baxendell (capt), C Saverimutto (C Turvey, 66); P Smith (P Winstanley, 41), S Diamond (J Clark, 73), D Theron (D Williamson, 70), D Baldwin (M Tinnock, 50), C Murphy, P Anglesea, G Manson-Bishop, A Sanderson.

Referee: S Piercy (Goole).