Martin Johnson may have retired but his spirit pervaded Welford Road on Saturday. Sale's England fly-half Charlie Hodgson did his best actions-speak-louder-than-words bit, while Leicester's errant flanker Lewis Moody likened the "enthusiasm" which cut short his comeback match to that of the younger "Johno". If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Johnson's ears must have been burning red-hot.
A match with hefty significance at the top of the Premiership - Sale's two points moved them closer to a home draw in the semi-finals - was overshadowed by talk of England. Is Hodgson in the form of his life? Yes. Are Moody's lavish talents being diminished by a self-confessed loss of self-control? His Leicester coach, Pat Howard, thought so, confining Moody to barracks for the second half rather risk compounding a yellow card for a mistimed tackle with a red.
In the press room afterwards, where Johnson used to mutter monosyllabically if at all, Hodgson said little other than to acknowledge his increasing comfort with the responsibility of his position. Moody admitted with typical candour that he has sought help to deal with the travails of the last two and half years: a couple of long injury lay-offs followed by two suspensions this season for punching.
"It's weird," said Moody, still a candidate to be England's No 7 against Wales on Saturday. "I've been playing this game 10 years and never been sent off, never been done for any sort of foul play before this season. I've been talking to a lot of guys - players, coaches - about how to keep control. It's not a psychologist as such, but the club has someone who deals with this stuff off the field - mentally preparing yourself - which has been quite useful."
Leicester, like Munster the week before them, targeted Sale's No 8 Sébastien Chabal. But whereas Munster repeatedly got their timing right, Moody three times got it wrong. He tackled Chabal from a restart when the Frenchman was off the ground. Then he pranged his own neck. Undeterred, he chased another ball and clattered into Chabal. Paul Honiss, the referee who will have charge at Twickenham on Saturday, fished out the yellow card and, just before half-time, Moody's return from his 62-day ban for fighting against Samoa was over.
"I remember Johno at the start of his career and you could guarantee he would be the first to give away a penalty," Moody said. "He had an enthusiastic approach to the game as well. Sometimes you will succumb to the laws of the game." Sale should know, as they suffered near-death by Honiss's whistle.
Andy Goode kicked six penalties in the second half to balance Sale's two expansive tries in the first, after which they led 24-9. Leicester's England captain Martin Corry rested his bruised ribs: a favour done by club to country, as was Sale restricting Andy Sheridan to a 25-minute run-out.
Hodgson kicked like a dream and, if he threw a duff pass or two, it is now seen in a positive light. "Charlie used to make one mistake and his head would go down," said Sale's director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André. "Now he can make a mistake and it doesn't matter, he is still in control."
That is a place, as the psychologists say, where Moody would love to be.
Leicester: Penalties Goode 8; Drop goal Goode. Sale: Tries Schofield, Jones; Conversion Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson 5.
Leicester: S Vesty; S Rabeni (A Tuilagi, 49), L Lloyd, O Smith, T Varndell; A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey, 61); G Rowntree (D Morris, 65), G Chuter (J Buckland, 64-66, 73-77), J White, L Cullen (capt), B Kay (L Deacon, 54), B Deacon, W Johnson, L Moody (L Abraham, 49).
Sale: J Robinson (capt; B Foden, 20); M Cueto, M Taylor, R Todd, C Mayor; C Hodgson, S Martens; L Faure (A Sheridan, 54), A Titterrell (S Bruno, 61), S Turner (B Stewart, 69), C Jones, D Schofield, J White, S Chabal (J Carter, 76), M Lund.
Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).Reuse content