At the end of a week when much of the talk has been about the treble, Leicester remain focused on the only silverware in their sights, as they reach the business end of their enigmatic campaign with their aspirations to retain the Allied Dunbar Premiership title unshaken by a woefully ineffectual Sale. Out of both cups they may be, but it will take something special to prise the championship from Leicester's grasp, especially as they have a game in hand over Bath.
With Northampton falling at Harlequins in midweek, and again yesterday at home to the West Country side, the chase is now effectively between the Tigers and Bath, and will probably be settled at Welford Road on 20 May when the two meet. In today's highly physical game, keeping body, mind and spirit synchronised in all three major competitions as the season pounds to its close places demands unsustainable by even the best teams.
Leicester have been down this road before and are well aware of its pitfalls. In 1997 they were chasing three titles, but fatigue and an outstanding Brive team cost them the European Cup.
They did win the last Pilkington Cup, by beating Sale in the dreariest Twickenham final on record, and needed a point in their last league game of the season to be sure of qualifying for Europe the following season. They just made it by scrambling a 20-20 draw at Heywood Road to save their necks.
Mindful perhaps that they have never found it easy to win here, Leicester made the sort of start which left no doubts as to the seriousness of their intent on claiming a fourth title. There was much of the snap and insistence missing in the first half of the season, allied to a marvellous display by the Tigers' forwards, who made light of the tricky conditions in persistent rain. They created an abundance of chances to score six tries before the break, when they led 41-3.
At one stage it seemed as if Leicester might pass their highest league score of the season, but the whole of the front row were allowed the second half off, so they added only one try to their first-half tally, when Will Greenwood crossed at the posts. Sale took advantage as the Tigers settled down with a new formation - in all they made five changes during the interval - enabling Steve Hanley to score a try, before Steve Davidson crossed in the game's final piece of action.
By then the sun had come out to adorn Leicester's victory. Geordan Murphy, Dave Lougheed and Austin Healey were the early try-scorers. When Rob Appleyard was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball at a ruck, Tim Stimpson added a try after Lougheed, for his second, and Leon Lloyd crossed. Sale never recovered.
Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, J Baxendell (capt), B-J Mather (S Davidson, 30), S Hanley; N Little, C Turvey (P Knight, 65); P Smith (P Winstanley, 67), J Clark, D Theron (D Bell, 67), G Manson-Bishop, M Tinnock (A Whittle, 67), A Sanderson, R Appleyard, P Anglesea (R Wilks, 41).
Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, L Lloyd (P Howard, 48), P Howard (W Greenwood, h-t), D Lougheed; A Healey, J Hamilton (J Grindal, 73); G Rowntree (P Freshwater, h-t), D West (R Cockerill, h-t), R Nebbett (J Akurangai, h-t), M Johnson (capt), B Kay (F van Heerden, 68), A Balding, N Back (P Gustard, h-t), M Corry.
Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).
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