Leicester Tigers gained a second win of the season with a 19-15 triumph over Sale Sharks at Welford Road on Sunday.
A try from Marland Yarde have Sharks the lead after just five minutes, but Kyle Eastmond linked with centre partner Gareth Owen to claim his first score for Tigers less than 10 minutes later. They were the only tries of the half as Tiger reached the break 13-5 in front.
It was nip-and-tuck in the second period, though, as George Ford kept Tigers in front despite two more Sharks tries, one coming with the last attack of the game.
After defeat against Worcester Warriors at Welford Road in Round 4, Tigers were looking to bounce back quickly but the Sharks were also desperately seeking points after one with in their opening four games and only one win in Leicester since 2008.
Interim head coach Geordan Murphy brought Kyle Eastmond and Adam Thompstone into the backline in place of the injured Manu Tuilagi and John Holmes, who reverted to the replacements’ bench, while Ben White made his first Premiership start at scrum-half. Ross McMillan was named among the replacements for his first appearance as a Tigers player.
Sharks were forced into a late change with the withdrawal of fly-half AJ MacGinty. Sam James moved into the No10 shirt, with Luke James coming into the backline at centre.
Tigers kicked off and immediately scored a turnover as they snatched back ball from the Sharks catcher. But they were kept on the 10-metre line through a set of phases efore the visitors won a penalty at the breakdown.
And Sharks made the breakthrough with just five minutes played, keeping ball through phases and, after being closed down five metres out on the left, kept the ball alive to create an easy run-in for Yarde in the other corner. Scrum-half Will Cliff’s conversion hit the post but Sharks were 5-0 in front.
Yarde threatened another break om halfway moments later before Guy Thompson took him down by the ankles, but the opening 10 minutes were dominated by the Sharks in possession.
The home crowd had something to get its teeth into on 13 minutes though when carries from David Denton, Mike Williams and Jonny May had the Sharks defence back-pedalling, and Tigers kept their composure in the attacking zone to celebrate as Gareth Owen offloaded for Eastmond to score. Ford added the conversion as Tigers led 7-5.
Quick thinking at a lineout near halfway got Tigers going forward again, and when they set up an attacking lineout on the right, Sharks were penalised, giving Tigers another opportunity. Ford kicked into the corner, Graham Kitchener made the catch and set up the forwards to inch towards the line. But when play reached the centre of the pitch, Tigers lost control and Sharks were handed a penalty five metres from their own line.
Kitchener stole the ensuing lineout inside Sale territory and Tigers stayed there until referee Craig Maxwell-Keys penalised Sale in defence and Ford pointed to the posts. His kick from the 10-metre line sailed through the posts to make it 10-5 with 25 minutes played.
A superb turnover by Thompson inside his own 22 gave Tigers a chance to counter-attack and May took play almost up to halfway, dragging one defender with him for several metres before the covering defence took him down and forced the ball free in contact.
Good pressure in defence from Tigers appeared to be rewarded with a try for May on 29 minutes, but the TMO brought attention back to the turnover won on halfway by Ford and a forward pass to the wing on the left.
Play restarted, though, with a Tigers scrum from the Sharks knock-on and they tried again before the whistle went again for a Thompson knock-on.
White, in his first Premiership start, was replaced on the half-hour with a leg injury, throwing Ben Youngs back into the action.
Greg Bateman was penalised at the next scrum and Sharks went for goal but Cliff dragged his kick wide.
Tigers looked to capitalise quickly as Thompstone’s kick-chase put pressure on Yarde and won a lineout just 10 metres out, but ball fell loose in the centre of the pitch as the forwards looked to build some pressure.
Ben Curry joined twin brother Tom in the Sharks back row as skipper Jono Ross went off for a head injury assessment just before half-time but, as Sale adjusted, they were penalised at a scrum 20 metres out and Ford knocked over the three-pointer for a 13-5 lead.
Sharks were called for a forward pass on halfway with the clock entering the last 90 seconds of the opening period but Tigers lost possession at the base and the visitors had to put-in for a second set-piece. Kitchener and Williams then combined in defence to push Sharks back as the whistle brought play to an end at 13-5 in Tigers’ favour.#
Good work at the breakdown from Tom Curry gave Sale a platform for attack at the start of the second half, Cliff putting his kick into the left-hand corner as they pushed \Tigers back. But just as they manufactured a chance under the posts, a knock-on rescued the Tigers rearguard. Tigers were also awarded a free-kick at the scrum and Ford thumped his kick up to halfway.
Referee \Maxwell-Keys took a tumble as Ben Youngs looked to break from a scrum, but Tigers had the penalty and kicked down the right touchline. Sale were whistled again at the lineout and Ford turned down a kick at goal to keep play in the corner.
The decision did not pay off, though, as Sharks wrapped up ball even as they were pushed back.
Tigers looked to have the push on at the resultant scrum too, but the referee thought otherwise and called a penalty in Sale’s favour.
The visitors returned to the Tigers 22 and Ford was penalised fort a high tackle called by the referee’s assistant just five metres out. Sale stayed in the corner and had another penalty when the maul was brought down short of the line. This time, they messed up their lines at the throw and Sione Kalamafoni was able to regain possession.
A clever kick down the right from Eastmond beat the Sharks defence but just evaded Owen, and full-back Byron McGuigan was able to pick up and kick into touch behind his own line.
Tom Curry won another penalty at the breakdown as Thompstone chased back into his own 22, and fron the lineout they claimed a second try from the driving maul, with Rob Webber on the ball.
Cliff missed the kick from left of the posts but the Tigers’ lead was down to three points at 13-10.
When Sale were penalised at a tackle near halfway, Ford judged his kick into the left-hand corner to perfection, but Tigers failed to gather at the set-piece and Cliff cleared his lines. The kick only reached 10 metres from his own line, but again Sharks managed to disrupt the lineout.
Tigers stayed in enemy territory, though, with Eastmond trying to feed the outside backs, but Sharks were penalised in front of the posts and Ford had an easy chance to make it 16-10.
Valentino Mapapalangi made his seasonal debut as a replacement for the hard-weorking Denton as the game reached its final 20 minutes.
Sharks threatened a vital score as they retained possession close-in, before being penalised in possession just under the posts with Thompson and Mapapalangi on top of the ball.
Joe Heyes and Harry Wells emerged as late replacements for Cole and Kitchener, but Tigers were again victims of the referee’s whistle in contact near halfway. Thankfully, they missed touch with the penalty and Ford kicked clear.
But it was a nervy spell and Tigers were thankful for Ford’s work in defence, ripping ball from McGuigan, and then from Kalalmafoni with a bit hit on Yarde.
Thompson then got on to the ball in the tackle zone on halfway to earn another penalty to the back-row. The offence was just inside his own half but Ford called for the tee and aced the kick the finally provide some breathing room at 19-10 with four minutes remaining.
Sharks threatened in the right-hand corner and were playing with advantage when Sam James put in a crosskick which beat their players on the left. Play came back to the opposite corner as the injured Owen was replaced by Jonah Holmes.
From the lineout, they steered play into the corner and replacement hooker Curtis Langdon dotted down. With only 40 seconds left on the clock, McGuigan missed his kick but the gap was down to four points and the referee blew up for full-time after Ford had got the game restarted.