Leicester (13) 30
Tries: Penalty, T Youngs, Crane Cons: Hougaard 3 Pens: Hougaard 3
Sale (0) 20
Tries: Bell 2 Con: Macleod 2 Pens: Macleod 2
Jordan Crane thundered over to ensure victory for the Tigers
Leicester won the battle of the also-rans in EDF Energy Cup Group B.
The hosts took a 13-0 half-time lead as Derick Hougaard landed two early penalties and added the conversion when the Tigers were awarded a penalty try.
Sale levelled inside the first 10 minutes of the second half through a Chris Bell try and Nick Macleod's boot.
A converted try apiece for Tom Youngs and Bell made it 20-20 before a Hougaard penalty and Jordan Crane's late converted try saw the Tigers home.
Leicester, beaten finallists last year and champions in 2007, fail to progress from the group stages for the first time in three years.
Cardiff Blues top the group with 12 points and now go through to the semi-finals, which will take place as a double-header at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on 28 March 2009.
Leicester boss Heyneke Meyer:
"I thought we lost our composure after half-time, which was unacceptable.
"There were a lot of new guys in there but we can play a lot better. It was a tougher game than we needed."
Meyer on the fit-again Lewis Moody, back after nine months out injured:
"I think Lewis did well. He stole a few good balls and his defence was great.
"I think he needs two or three games to be back to his best but you saw tonight he is always at a very high standard."
Sale boss Philippe Saint-Andre:
"We had a lot of young players in the EDF and I think they learned a lot. I am proud because we did not lose by 50 points - it was a good game.
"There were some silly mistakes but that's the only way they will learn and some of these guys will be pushing for a place in the 22 against Gloucester.
"We only have 31 full-time players so we need to find some talents."
Leicester: Smith; J Murphy, Rabeni, T Youngs, Varndell; Hougaard, Dupuy; Stankovich, Kayser, Cole, Blaze, Kay, B Deacon, Moody, Newby.
Replacements: Vesty for Smith (41), B Youngs for Dupuy (34), Ayerza for Stankovich (52), Davies for Kayser (46), Wentzel for Blaze (68), Crane for Moody (59).
Not Used: Erinle.
Sale: Doherty; Kuadey, Keil, Bell, Styles; McLeod, Peel; O'Donnell, M Jones, Turner, Schofield, White, Fernandez Lobbe, Hills, Fearns.
Replacements: Atkinson for Doherty (52), Kennedy for Keil (65), Davies for O'Donnell (58), Ward for M. Jones (62), D Tait for Hills (63).
Not Used: Gaskell, Cliff.
Sin Bin: O'Donnell (16).
Ref: James Jones (WRFU).