Leicester Tigers 30 Sale Sharks 23 match report: First half performance enough to see champions home despite valiant fightback
Tigers led 20-6 at half-time before Sale mounted a brave but unsuccessful comeback
Saturday 28 December 2013
Leicester held off a tremendous fightback by Sale to beat the Sharks 30-23 at Welford Road.
It was a much needed boost for the Aviva Premiership champions who started the day in seventh place after last week's thrashing at leaders Saracens.
They owed the win to a great first half performance which earned them two tries and a 20-6 half time lead.
Star of the show was young Welsh fly-half Owen Williams who had a fabulous first 40 minutes and finished with 15 points from a faultless kicking display.
But Sale hit back after the interval with two tries of their own and a late penalty by replacement Joe Ford earned them a bonus point.
Leicester made nine changes after last week's 49-10 thumping at Sarries, including the entire front row and at fly-half where Williams replaced Ryan Lamb.
Sale gave a debut to Tonga number eight Viliami Fahiki, while former England winger Mark Cueto moved to outside centre because of an injury to Mark Jennings.
A full-house was denied a potentially mouthwatering battle between two England fly-halves because of injury to Leicester's Toby Flood and Sale's Danny Cipriani who also has flu.
However, Williams, who signed from the Scarlets last summer, showed he may be the one to succeed Flood, who is moving to France at the end of the season, by making a sparkling start to his ninth appearance for the Tigers.
The 21-year-old was at the heart of all the good work that earned them a 10-0 lead after 12 minutes, and was heavily involved in a brilliant fourth minute try.
His chip over halfway was caught by Dan Bowden and, after Thomas Waldrom had bulldozed his way into the 22 and the ball was recycled several times, Williams popped up to provide the scoring pass for lock Ed Slater.
Williams converted and then kicked a penalty before being on the receiving end of a scuffle with Sale centre Sammy Tuitupou, who was sin-binned by referee Ashley Rowden after he had consulted the TMO.
The TMO was involved again two minutes later, this time awarding a try to Leicester winger Adam Thompstone who scored from a long miss-pass by Bowden.
Williams had the crowd roaring after a superb conversion from the left touchline made it 17-0, which became 17-3 when Sale fly-half Nick Macleod slotted an easy penalty.
Thompstone should have had a second after being put away by Williams but spilled the ball in the tackle near the line before Williams made it 20-3 in the 35th minute with an easy penalty.
Sale finally managed to exert some pressure with a few minutes of the half left.
They refused three kickable penalties in favour of going for a try but failed to dent the Tigers defence and had to settle for a penalty by Macleod from the left touchline deep into overtime.
Williams stretched Leicester's lead four minutes after the interval with a penalty from in front of the posts and, after full-back Rob Miller had missed a long range penalty for Sale, Cueto scored an impressive try after scrum-half Dwayne Peel had sparked the attack with a clever switch of direction.
Tigers centre Bowden was injured during the attack and replaced by Matt Smith.
Macleod kicked the conversion from the right touchline to give hope to Sale, who withstood some fierce pressure from the Tigers just before the hour mark.
And they got their reward for that stout defence when winger Charlie Ingall finished off a great move started by flanker James Gaskell, who split the Tigers defence wide open with a blistering break.
Macleod again kicked the conversion from the right touchline to put Sale within three points of their hosts.
But the forwards put the Tigers back in control when they earned a penalty try from a sixth successive scrum on the Sale line.
Williams converted but replacement Joe Ford kicked a long range penalty for Sale three minutes later.
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