Sale handed a cruel lesson by Richards

Sale 12 Leicester 16
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The Independent Online
Growing up can be a painful, even cruel, process. Most would have adjudged that Sale had come of age on their return to the first division last season with a thoroughly well-merited fourth place. As a by-product of playing some delightfully exuberant rugby, only Wasps out-scored them in tries.

But Sale know full well that their maturity depends on the sort of defensive tightness which Leicester now possess - as well as brightly-polished attacking skills - and the ability to maintain their concentration right up to the final whistle. Only then will they be able to challenge the champions, Wasps and Bath, who finished above them last April.

In defence now, Sale look an entirely different proposition, both around the fringes and wider out, where for 90 minutes at least, Leicester could find no way through. But in the last breath of an extraordinary sequence, well after the final whistle should have been blown, Sale blew it as they allowed the Tigers to steal the result from them.

Sale were quick to point an accusatory finger at the referee, Ashley Rowden. New to the top echelon, Rowden has first to please his assessor before gaining the approval of players or spectators if he is to make his way up the ladder to the international panel. Mr Rowden fell off several rungs from the bottom at Heyward Road on Saturday. His exacting application of the laws to the very letter and his zealous approach, together with some forgetful time-keeping, spoiled the match; except for Leicester and their supporters, that is.

With neither side able to fashion a try, it looked as if the kickers would decide the outcome. Rob Liley at outside-half for Sale had outshone his elder brother John - Leicester's full back - with two penalties from three attempts, plus a towering dropped goal. John's contribution was two from four.

After Niall Malone had taken over from John and tied the scores with a penalty, Leicester would probably have settled for that.

But Gareth Stocks dropped a goal to put Sale 12-9 in front on the stroke of full-time, when referee Rowden forgot there had been few stoppages and inexplicably allowed play to continue for six minutes and Leicester to have one last blast at Sale's concentration.

Dean Richards provided the ball, Rory Underwood the breach and Stuart Potter the try. Cruel on Sale; even if it is a part of growing up.

Sale: Penalties R Liley 2; Drop goals: R Liley, Stocks. Leicester: Try Potter; Conversion J Liley; Penalties J Liley 2, Malone.

Sale: J. Mallinder (capt); C Yates, J Baxendell, G Stocks, M Appleson; R Liley, C Saverimutto; P Smith, S Diamond, A Smith, J Fowler, D Baldwin, D Erskine, C Vyvyan (P Hewitt, 19), N Ashurst.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, R Robinson, R Underwood; N Malone, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham, Berkshire)