Leicester's heavyweights crush Sale
Leicester 45 - Sale 15
Martin Johnson can hardly wait for his retirement, though before he can ride off into the sunset at the end of a glittering career, there is still unfinished business to be completed. The same can be said for Neil Back who, like Johnson, has spent the greater part of his playing life at Welford Road. John Wells is also bound for other pastures, after 23 years as a player and as head coach. This illustrious trio want to end the season with some silverware.
A Twickenham away-day to decide the Zurich Premiership next month and a trip to Murrayfield a week later with the prospect of a third Heineken Cup victory would do very nicely.
First in line were Sale, who defeated Leicester at Edgeley Park in September. So there was the added element of revenge to yesterday's encounter, where Sale were without Charlie Hodgson, though otherwise at near full-strength. Wells made six changes to the team that beat Leinster in Dublin last week, the hugely promising Tom Varndell being drafted in on the right wing, with Scott Bemand and Will Johnson also making starts. With Lions places still up for grabs, Andrew Sheridan, Jason White and Andy Titterrell from Sale needed big performances ahead of tomorrow's squad announcement. So, too, the Tigers' Ollie Smith and Harry Ellis, who began on the bench yesterday.
The changes were academic as Sale were routed by an ebullient Leicester pack, for whom Lewis Moody and Martin Corry were in towering form. They were kept on the front foot throughout by Andy Goode, who contributed 20 points with six conversions, a dropped goal and a try. It was 31-10 at half time, with the defining phase being the 13 minutes in which Leicester ran in four tries, from Moody, Leon Lloyd, Goode and Martin Johnson.
"We started slowly," said Wells, "but after the first quarter and as the game wore on we found our rhythm and played some terrific rugby."
It was all too much for Sale who looked out of sorts despite the encouragement of a splendid try from Mark Cueto, which opened the scoring, with the conversion and a penalty by Mike Hercus. Cueto scored a second, but it was too late.
The Tigers relaxed after the break, but still had enough in the tank to work Alesana Tuilagi and Varndell across for tries as Sale ran out of energy and ideas. It was not a game from which the Sale director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André could draw any comfort.
"Some of our guys didn't believe they could come here and win," lamented Saint-André. "We must now win our last two games, which would mean we will be in next season's Heineken Cup."
Leicester: G Murphy; T Varndell, L Lloyd (O Smith, 55), D Gibson (S Vesty, 74), A Tuilagi; A Goode, S Bemand (H Ellis, 74); G Rowntree, G Chuter (J Buckland, 78), D Morris, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon, W Johnson (H Tuilagi, 48; J Rawson, 65), L Moody, M Corry.
Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, C Rhys Jones, R Todd (J Payne, 68), S Hanley; M Hercus (D Blair, 58), B Redpath (S Martens, 58); A Sheridan, A Titterrell (S Bruno, 58), B Stewart (S Turner, 52), C Jones (P Anglesea, 80), D Schofield, J White, M Lund, S Chabal (I-F Lobbe, 58).
Referee: D Rose (West Midlands).
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