The moods of Moody swing against him

Leicester 27 Sale 27
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The Independent Online

What do you do with a problem like Lewis Moody? In Leicester's case the wisest course of action faced with the flanker's maddening combination of talent and commitment was not to risk getting him sent off in his first match back from a ban for punching.

Moody was shown the yellow card for an off-the-ball challenge just before half-time and did not return from the sin-bin for fear of something worse. Leicester's head coach, Pat Howard, did not mince his words, saying: "Lewis had a yellow card and I didn't want to see him a get a red because of his enthusiasm."

Due to a combination of injury and his two suspensions this season, it was only Moody's 16th start for Leicester out of a possible 98 since early 2003, and just his third this season. During the same period he has played 23 Tests for England and the Lions. Of course the club still value him highly, and they were as happy as England that his punishment for fighting in November's Test against Samoa - initially announced by the Six Nations committee as nine weeks - turned out to be a day short of that figure, allowing yesterday's match practice before next Saturday's Six Nations opener against Wales.

But increasingly with Moody there is a crossing of fingers when he takes the field. His gung-ho chasing of restarts cost Leic-ester a penalty in the 19th minute, when he tackled Sébastien Chabal in midair.

Suitably warned by the New Zealand referee, Paul Honiss - who also happened to be warming up for Twickenham - Moody was either unwilling or unable to get his timing right. His next headlong charge brought him a nasty bang to the neck. Then in added time before the interval he clattered Chabal again, off the ball, and headed for the cooler. Howard had seen enough. "I would loved to have played 80 minutes but the decision was taken out of my hands," said Moody.

While that left England with a tricky decision to make, the Tigers were left clawing their way back from a 15-point deficit. And an effective job they made of it without ever heading Sale - who stay on top of the Premiership as a result - and only once threatening a try. Sale's head coach, Philippe Saint-André, was mystified by Honiss's officiating but Tigers had plenty of pressure. Andy Goode, their fly-half, kicked six penalties after the break and every one of Leicester's 27 points overall, including a dropped goal which made it 9-6 to Leicester after the first quarter.

England's assistant coaches Phil Larder and Phil Keith-Roach were here on international-watch - a dozen candidates in the 36-man squad were in the two 22s - though not Leicester's captain of club and country, Martin Corry, who was resting bruised ribs but should be fit for HQ.

The skipper this time last year, Jason Robinson, hobbled off after 20 minutes, but soon after his Sale side had the first of their two tries from the unexpected source of the second row. Dean Schofield, lurking on the left wing, finished off tidy spadework by Charlie Hodgson and Mark Cueto after a couple of Sale busts up the middle. Hodgson converted and added his third penalty, then Chris Jones found a line of least resistance around a ruck as Leicester's defending left plenty to be desired.

Hodgson, kicking beautifully out of hand and only very occasionally wayward in his handling, potted the penalty from Moody's indiscretion close to halfway and Sale led 24-9. Moody was draped in a cape on the subs' bench and was replaced by Luke Abraham.

Goode kicked a penalty while Leicester were a man down, and put over two more after they were restored to the full complement. But a possible try went begging when awkward passing by Alex Tuilagi and a white-haired Ollie Smith - someone must have convinced him Domestos was a Greek hairdresser - left Tom Varndell fumbling for the ball like a drunk chasing a penny down the drain.

Honiss's reputation in England for allowing strong scrummaging is akin to Sweeney Todd's for responsible shaving techniques. He began to whistle Sale regularly in their 22, yet bafflingly without recourse to a yellow card. Goode punched over two more penalties and missed one; Hodgson replied with his solitary shot at goal in the second half to edge Sale out in front again at 27-24 after 69 minutes. Goode, with Honiss finding fault again with Sale at the side of a ruck, levelled soon after: eight from nine place-kicks for the Leicester fly-half, Hodgson's England understudy.

Hodgson went for a dropped goal from 30 metres' distance but was charged down by Austin Healey and George Chuter, who by that stage looked like a refugee from the Crimea. Sale got a penalty on halfway, but instead of a risky goal attempt they went for touch, messed up the line-out and it ended in a draw. Points shared; the national team's casualty count carries on over the weekend.

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).