Crane makes his point as Tigers dismiss Sale

Leicester 32 Sale 6
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The Independent Online

The suggestion of the Leicester chief executive Peter Wheeler in his programme notes that this game had the feel of the Tigers' former traditional Christmas fixture against the Barbarians proved a fanciful notion.

Wheeler claimed that Sale's club team-work would provide Leicester with as big a test as a star-studded Barbarians outfit, but Sale proved to be a poor shadow of the side that completed a Heineken Cup double over Harlequins, having opted to rest most of their frontline players.

It still took Leicester a long time to break down their depleted opponents and it required a last-gasp, close-range try from Jordan Crane, when Sale were down to 14 men, to clinch the bonus point.

A Christmas cracker this certainly wasn't, but few of the spectators among the 24,000 crowd appeared to mind. The Leicester faithful have become accustomed to seeing their side chisel out win after win here and the bottom-line – 24 matches in all competitions since the Tigers were last beaten at Welford Road – is all that counts.

"I thought we played all the rugby and created enough chances to score four tries, although the fourth was a long time in coming," said Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill on his return to match-day duties after completing a month-long touchline ban for referee abuse.

Despite Cockerill's assertion that Leicester played all the rugby, Sale did contribute to a half-decent contest but ultimately lacked the experience in key positions to turn promising positions into points.

Jonny Kennedy, son of Sale owner Brian, was one of eleven changes made to the starting line-up and the young centre acquitted himself well in trying circumstances.

James Gaskell, a combative and industrious blindside flanker, also stood out in defeat, but Sale's shaky lineout and a lack of forward bulk meant they were destined to provide only nuisance value in this showdown with a more seasoned opponent.

"If we had come away with a point I would have been quietly happy," said the Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones.

"But I'm very disappointed at the moment. We lose a lineout and Leicester score, concede a soft try from a drive and the try at the end I felt was unnecessary.

"But Leicester are a good side, they ground it out with nothing flash and they do what they do well."

What Leicester do especially well is identify and exploit weaknesses in the opposition pack and they gradually made their forward supremacy count, with close-range second-half tries from Ben Kay and Lewis Moody, after Johne Murphy had been put over for a well-worked opener.

Scorers: Leicester: Tries Murphy, Kay, Moody, Crane; Cons: Flood (3); Pens: Flood (2). Sale: Pens Hodgson (2).

Leicester: S Hamilton; J Murphy (A Tuilagi, 65), D Hipkiss (S Vesty, 64), A Allen, L Tuqiri; T Flood, B Youngs (H Ellis, 61); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 48), M Davies (G Chuter, 65), D Cole, G Parling, B Kay, C Newby, L Moody (capt, B Woods, 65), J Crane.

Sale: M Vakacegu; O Ripol, J Kennedy (D Doherty, 72), D Bishop (N Macleod, 38), B Cohen; C Hodgson (capt), R Wigglesworth; G Kerr (R O'Donnell, 50), M Jones (M Schwalger, 50), M Halsall (J Forster, 64), C Jones (D Schofield, 50), S Cox, J Gaskell, L Abraham (Kerr, 79), K Ormsby.

Referee: J Doyle (London).