Sale keep play-off hopes alive and give Manu Tuilagi winning home farewell against Leicester

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Published Time: 11.05.2024 - 01:40:20 Modified Time: 11.05.2024 - 01:40:20

Sharks should earn semi-final spot with a win against Saracens next week, but Leicester’s hopes are now out of their hands Sale Sharks 31 Leicester Tigers 22On one of the balmiest evenings of the year, Sale’s season could not have taken a brighter turn

Sharks should earn semi-final spot with a win against Saracens next week, but Leicester’s hopes are now out of their hands

Sale Sharks 31 Leicester Tigers 22

On one of the balmiest evenings of the year, Sale’s season could not have taken a brighter turn. By defeating a struggling Leicester, the Sharks kept themselves fully in the mix for a Premiership play-off spot and a second-successive appearance at Twickenham.

The bonus-point victory leaves Sale third but that will likely be transient after the rest of the weekend’s matches. Still, the Sharks know that a win at Saracens next Saturday will likely earn a semi-final spot. No mean feat, of course – especially since Saracens might need to win to either secure a play-off place of their own or clinch a home semi-final – but these gutsy northerners did everything that could have been asked of them, inflicting a third-consecutive league defeat on the Tigers and continuing their own late-season resurgence.

: Getty Images/Jan Kruger

“The last three games have been some of the best rugby we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Alex Sanderson, Sale’s director of rugby who re-signed for three more years on Friday. 

“We go down to Saracens ahead of a mammoth challenge. It’s not just matching them emotionally, because we will, but there has to be a calmness to it. I believe we can win the Premiership over the next three years.”

The victory was convincing but the encouraging signs for Sale are that this was not even a vintage display. George Ford was not at his best, but even an off-tune Ford is superior to most, and eventually the back row and midfield dominated. 

Ben Curry, captaining the hosts, could not have offered more and Manu Tuilagi, against his boyhood club, delivered a virtuoso performance on what might be his final home game in English rugby.

For the last time ????Manu Tuilagi leaves the field in his final home game for @SaleSharksRugby ???? #GallagherPrem | #SALvLEI pic.twitter/B7bndAEH0V

In terms of the play-offs, Leicester’s season is over but their concern is Europe. Eight Premiership teams enter the Champions Cup but, should Gloucester defeat the South African Sharks in the Challenge Cup final, the Cherry and Whites would earn an automatic place and only the top seven in the English table would qualify. 

With this loss to Sale, Tigers now must hope Exeter lose to Harlequins on Saturday and then beat the Chiefs themselves next weekend. Even then, everyone in Leicester might have to become fans of Durban this month.

“The story of the last six weeks,” said Dan McKellar, Leicester head coach. “We worked hard for our tries and we gifted them a couple of easy ones. We don’t enjoy feeling the way we are at the moment. Stick with us and understand we’ll be better for it.”

Sanderson demanded “knockout rugby” from his troops but it was the underdogs who delivered the early intent. Dan Cole, who turned 37 in the week, does not score many tries but even he would have struggled to butcher the chance from a few metres out after Dan Kelly and George Martin combined intuitively.

It would not take long for Sale to respond, however. The Sharks sent Tuilagi rampaging into the midfield for a line-out, flattening Ollie Hassell-Collins in the process. The wing would later receive a yellow card for his troubles – despite his bravery, he was illegal in the tackle – but the platform allowed Gus Warr to snipe and give Sale the lead.

Manu Tuilagi sets the platform and Gus Warr cashes in ????#GallagherPrem | #SALvLEI pic.twitter/Bm8ZPcE3od

Although the hosts never surrendered their lead, Sale managed just one try during the sin-bin period. And it was fairly routine, with Curry wrapping around the front of a line-out and sending Tommy Taylor, on his 150th appearance for the club, down the hooker channel to score. Ford’s conversion double gave Sale a healthy lead but the Tigers stayed in touch.

A Matt Scott intercept off the passing of Warr, as well as three points from the long-range boot of Jamie Shillcock, meant the visitors headed into the half-time break trailing by six points. There could – and would – have been less damage, too, had a calamitous Leicester line-out not set up another Sale try. The hosts’ handling to get the job done dazzled and, in the end, full-back Sam James finished neatly on his 237th and final appearance for the Sharks before departing for pastures new.

A try in his final home game for club legend Sam James ????You love to see it!#GallagherPrem | #SALvLEI pic.twitter/xsq4d8Jfsp


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