Tigers find no route out of Braam's way

Leicester 16 Sale 22
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The Independent Online

They played a new Tigers supporters' song over the speakers at half-time, a sort of tra-la-la rugby Christmas carol which was lustily and predictably booed. But Sale brought with them a couple of even worse records, which were of much greater consequence.

Not since 1976 had the Mancunians won at Welford Road, but not only did the visitors put that to rights, they also secured their first Premiership victory since March.

Leicester, having themselves lost for the first time this season, could not even revel for long in securing a bonus point, courtesy of Tim Stimpson's mighty penalty goal from the half-way line four minutes into added time.

All that did was redress the balance of the week, after the Tigers had been deducted a league point for fielding Darren Morris when the former Swansea man was not properly registered.

Leicester said there was culpability in the cock-up on both sides - if the club have been punished, what of the Premiership's administrators? Mineral water instead of gin and tonic at the next committee meeting, perhaps. As for yesterday, if one was to play the blame game there would have been fingers pointing from all partisan parts of Welford Road at the referee, Dave Pearson, who fell out with Morris and his fellow Leicester front-rowers early on and never made it up.

Sale regularly went offside on the fringes of ruck and maul, yet when Pearson finally produced a yellow card, in the 27th minute of the second half, it was in the face of the Tigers' captain, Josh Kronfeld, for impeding Sale's scrum-half, Nick Walshe. The ex-All Black flanker headed for the sin-bin, and had to gather his wits to stop himself going back and giving Pearson what for.

The truth, as Kronfeld probably knew in his heart, was that Leicester were not good enough. With Austin Healey starting his first club match in almost six months and the Italy international Ramiro Pez still finding his Tiger feet at fly-half, the back line needed more than Daryl Gibson's guile to outflank Sale's determined defence. Up front, Leicester are supremely blessed with quality forwards - the only trouble is, they're all in Australia with England. Morris twice conceded significant penalties - one at a ruck, one for boring in at the scrum - which Braam van Straaten put over to move Sale into a 13-3 lead at the interval.

Earlier, Leicester's disjointedness was evident in the making of the try that opened the scoring. John Holtby was isolated and turned over, and Sale cleared. From the line-out, Leicester again coughed up the ball, to Stuart Pinkerton, and a quick transference to the left touchline set centre Graeme Bond free to step inside Stimpson and outpace Pez on a 50 metre run-in.

Van Straaten converted, and though Stimpson replied with a penalty in the ninth minute, Leicester's full-back missed his next three pots at the posts. Pez, surprisingly dropped from Italy's World Cup squad after a year in the job, found it difficult to inject pace into Leicester's attacks, and if Sale generally ran out of ideas the further wide they went, it mattered little.

Van Straaten's boot made it 16-3, then 19-6 after a Stimpson penalty, before Leicester raised some hope with a try by Sam Vesty. With his first touch after replacing Pez, Vesty feinted an outside pass and cut past Andy Titterrell, after Holtby had been held up on the short side. Stimpson converted, but yet another front row penalty allowed Van Straaten to land his sixth successful kick in seven attempts. By contrast, Stimpson's late boomer was only his fourth in eight. It came when Sale's Dean Schofield was judged the instigator of a second row set-to with James Hamilton which left both men in the sin-bin. A rousing series of phases at the death neither changed the result nor masked Leicester's despair.

Leicester 16 Sale 22
Try: Vesty; Try: Bond
Con: Stimpson; Con: Van Straaten
Pens: Stimpson 3; Pens: Van Straaten 5

Half-time: 3-13 Attendance: 15,007

Leicester:T Stimpson (H Ellis, 54-61); O Smith, L Lloyd, D Gibson, J Holtby; R Pez (S Vesty, 71), A Healey; D Morris, G Chuter, R Nebbett, J Hamilton, L Deacon, B Deacon (H Tuilagi, 64; W Skinner, 68), W Johnson, J Kronfeld (capt; Tuilagi, 78).

Sale: V Going; M Cueto, G Bond, C Mayor, S Hanley; B van Straaten, N Walshe; A Sheridan (K Yates, 67), A Titterrell, S Turner, I Fullarton, D Schofield, A Sanderson (capt), C Jones, S Pinkerton

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).