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Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 18:52 UK

Leicester 37-31 Sale

Leicester (17) 37
Tries: Tuilagi, Hamilton 2, Hipkiss, Vesty Cons: Flood 2, Vesty Pens: Flood 2

Sale (15) 28
Tries: Cueto 2, Briggs Cons: Hodgson 2 Pens: Hodgson 4

By James Standley

Sam Vesty takes on the Sale defence
Sam Vesty crowned a fine game with Leicester's final try

Leicester made light of playing three-quarters of the match with only 14 men as they beat Sale to go back to the top of the Premiership table.

The Tigers lost Julian White after 23 minutes for punching Andrew Sheridan.

Alesana Tuilagi and Scott Hamilton gave the hosts a 17-15 half-time lead, Sale scoring twice through Mark Cueto.

Neil Briggs put Sale in front before Hamilton, Dan Hipkiss and Sam Vesty secured a Leicester win, although Sale did earn a losing bonus point.

Since interim boss Richard Cockerill took charge Leicester have steadily climbed the table and they started the day second behind Harlequins.

The Londoners kicked off two hours before Leicester and they briefly extended their lead with a hard-fought victory at high-flying Bath.

But Leicester's win in an epic, see-sawing encounter at Welford Road saw them claim a try-scoring bonus point which was enough to give the Tigers a one-point lead in the Premiership with two games of the regular season to play.

The Tigers opened the scoring when Tuilagi battered his way through a couple of tackles to score a typically rumbustuous try.


Fly-half Toby Flood, back from England duty, converted and although Hodgson soon got Sale ticking over with a penalty Flood replied in kind to make it 10-3 to the hosts after 10 minutes.

However, Sale were in no mood to go down without a fight and immediately hit back as Cueto took a delicious inside pass from Hodgson after Sale won quick ball off the top of a line-out.

Cueto raced over under the posts and Hodgson's conversion levelled the scores, but parity only lasted for three minutes as Hamilton scored after Vesty sliced through the Sale defence, with Vesty adding the extras.

The temperature of the game was already high but it was raised to boiling point when White was red carded for flooring fellow England prop Sheridan with a straight right to the jaw after a dust-up following a scrum.

It was only the third red card of the season in the Premiership and when Sale hit back just before the break it looked as though it might prove costly for the hosts.

Mathew Tait made a classic outside break and quick hands gave Cueto the chance to dive over in the right corner for a superb try.

Hodgson missed the conversion but Sale were right in the game and they took an 18-17 lead when Hodgson made no mistake with a penalty from long range two minutes after the restart.

Within three minutes Flood had nudged the Tigers back into the lead with a penalty after a sublime piece of interplay between Tuilagi and Geordan Murphy, but the tit for tat nature of the scoring continued as Sale went back in front.

Tait fired out a pass in midfield and when Tuialgi just missed the interception flanker Briggs raced over from the 22.

Hodgson slotted the conversion and suddenly Sale had a five-point lead with just over half an hour to play, but the see saw was about to tilt once more and this time it was a decisive shift in momentum as Leicester hit back with a cracking try.

Hodgson had been pulling the strings beautifully for Sale but suddenly he produced an ill-judged chip and Murphy pounced midway inside his own half.

Tom Croft and Tuilagi both made ground before the Samoan winger fed a superb pass inside to Hipkiss and the sometime England centre romped over.

Flood missed the conversion and with the sides locked together at 25-25 the game was set up a dramatic finale, but Leicester had taken control.

They went in front with 20 minutes to go after a flowing attack which saw Hamilton latch onto a slide-rule grubber from Flood and dot down by the posts.

Hodgson trimmed the gap after Kay conceded a penalty with a cynical infringement at a ruck in front of his posts.

Sheridan then went off with 15 minutes remaining and was roundly booed by the partisan Tigers crowd.

Their passion was being more than matched on the pitch by their team and Leicester rounded off victory when Vesty sliced over to finish off another sweeping attack for their fifth try of the game.

Sale had played their part in a hugely entertaining match and they ensured they headed north with something for their troubles when Hodgson knocked over a late penalty to give them a bonus point for finishing within seven points of the Tigers.

Stand-in Tigers coach Richard Cockerill:
"Sometimes it can affect you psychologically when you go a man down. Today was about the players, the club and the supporters and the boys fronted up.

"We have a good scrum and we want to use it as a weapon and Julian's physicality is a key.

"You have to take off a back-row forward which leaves you short in other areas, but the players have to take the credit - the spirit and camaraderie they showed today was second to none."

Sale head coach Kingsley Jones:
"I said at half-time that often when a side has a player sent off the other team takes their foot off the gas.

"I asked our players at the end if they thought that happened in the second half and the simple answer was 'no'.

"But you can't concede five tries against 14 men. We know Welford Road is a tough place to come to but we have no-one to blame but ourselves."

Leicester: G Murphy; Hamilton, Hipkiss, Vesty, Tuilagi; Flood, Ellis; Ayerza, Chuter, White, L Deacon, Kay, Croft, Woods, Pienaar.

Replacements: Dupuy for Ellis (58), Hemingway for Ayerza (68), Castrogiovanni for Pienaar (24).

Not Used: Davies, Green, Erinle, J. Murphy.

Sent Off: White (23).

Sale: McLeod; Cueto, M Tait, Keil, Ripol; Hodgson, Peel; Sheridan, Bruno, Roberts, C. Jones, Cockbain, White, Briggs, Fernandez Lobbe.

Replacements: Tuilagi for Keil (68), Wigglesworth for Peel (66), Faure for Sheridan (68), Fearns for Bruno (62), Schofield for Cockbain (55).

Not Used: Turner, Kuadey.

Att: 17,418

Ref: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

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see also
Ellis hopes to put things right
01 Apr 09 |  Leicester
Leeds sign Wentzel from Leicester
02 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Bath and Tigers boost Euro squads
31 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Newcastle 14-10 Leicester
27 Mar 09 |  English
Cueto cited over Higgins tackle
02 Apr 09 |  Sale
Cueto dreaming of Lions call-up
01 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Sale 23-16 Bath
27 Mar 09 |  English

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