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Fri 30 Dec 7:45pm Salford City Stadium Attendance: 0
Sale Sharks vs Leicester Tigers
By Ben Nurse
Sale met Leicester Tigers at the Salford Stadium on New Years weekend after spending the Christmas period second in the Premiership table.
It was the third meeting of the sides this season, with Sharks looking to make it three wins from three after running out 26-16 victors in October in the league and winning 25-19 in the Premiership Cup in September.
Leicester arrived in Greater Manchester in good form after beating Gloucester on Christmas Eve and Clermont the week before. While Sale were buoyed from two losses on the bounce, against Toulouse in the south of France and a frustrating loss in Newcastle.
Sale started the better of the two sides, after a lengthy period of kick tennis Sharks finally took the lead after 17 minutes from the boot of Rob Du Preez.
Rob added six more points with the boot before Sale scored the first try. A peach of a miss pass from Sam James released Arron Reed who played a neat one-two with Luke James before unselfishly offloading to his wing partner Tom O’Flaherty, who cantered in for seven more points.
Sale controlled the last stages of the first half and looked to have scored again when a clever grubber kick from Sam James was pounced upon by speedster Reed. However, referee Matt Carley went to the TMO and decided that Reed had not cleanly grounded the ball. Nevertheless, a healthy 16-0 halftime lead for Sale.
The start of the second half looked to be taking the same pattern as the end of the first, with Sale dominating possession, but a loose pass from Du Preez was intercepted by his opposite number Pollard, handing Tigers five easy points and a way back into the game.
However, the tide was still behind the home side. Manu Tuilagi, found in an unfamiliar position on the wing, danced around the Tigers defence and came within five metres of scoring. Loosehead prop Simon McIntyre on hand to convert the chance into seven points, crashing over from short-range.
As they have done all season, the Sale defence stood strong and repelled the waves of Leicester attack at source. Jonny Hill and the Curry brothers particularly prolific in pilfering any potential Tigers attacking chances.
Sale were next to add the the lead, a Luke James try was chalked after the outrageous offload assist from Rob Du Preez was deemed forward. But there was no stopping the relentless Sharks attack and after multiple threatening driving mauls were collapsed by Leicester, referee Matt Carley had no choice but to sprint under the posts and award a penalty try. 30-5 to the hosts.
The floodgates were well and truly open, and Sale were finding space everywhere they looked, breaking from their own half once again. McGuigan, fresh off the bench, ran half the field and looked to be in for a try but stepped inside with the corner undefended.
Despite the missed opportunity, the bonus point was still in reach and Sale secured it with five minutes remaining. Sale again looking to the reliability of their rolling maul to get the seven points, Ewan Ashman off the bench, going over to score.
The atmosphere was now raucous, and Sale dutifully played the rugby to match it, again turning the restart reception into a flowing break up-field. The crowd commotion peaked as Joe Simpson loomed on the shoulder of a rampaging Tom Curry, looking to mark his final professional rugby match with a try, but the pass slipped by him. However, the ball was recycled, and Simpson himself through the pass for Rob Du Preez to score in the corner. A perfect end to a perfect night for Sale, and a deserved try for the once again imperious fly-half.
The Sale team and the 9,491 fans in the Salford Stadium paid respects to a retiring Joe Simpson, as his attempted conversion spooned wide into the north stand to a mix of jeers and applause.
After the game defence coach Mike Forshaw was full of praise for the Curry back-row combination, affectionately labelled “twindaloo”, which fans and coaches so rarely get to witness.
He said, “We are a different team with those two in the team.
“Some of their work on the floor and their effort, is there for everyone to see.”
Forshaw went as far to say that he sees no difference between the 46-time capped Tom and the uncapped Ben, and not just referring to their appearance.
“Obviously there is a new regime at England, but I have always said, Ben and Tom, it is like-for-like.
“We probably left a couple scores out there; we probably could have had 50. Which is surprising because I didn’t think we would win by 40, I thought it would be an arm wrestle.
“My New Year’s Eve will be a lot happier than my Christmas Eve I can tell you that.”
Forshaw ended by highlighting the potential that the Sale team has in 2023. He said “You only have to look in the stands today, Bevan Rodd, George Ford and Raffi Quirke who will potentially be a Lion in the next few years.
“It is quite a juicy prospect going into the New Year.”
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