Leicester Tigers suffered a second home defeat of 2020 – and were denied a consolation point by a last-minute penalty – when Sale Sharks claimed a 40-31 bonus-point victory on Saturday in Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership campaign.
In the third home game played behind closed doors since the season’s restart after the COVID-19 closedown, Tigers trailed 9-20 at half-time with three penalties from George Ford in reply to scores from AJ MacGinty and Manu Tuilagi on his first return to Welford Road.
Hanro Liebenberg’s first try for the club put some wind in the home side’s sails approaching midway in the second half as Tigers got within eight points.
Sale looked back in control as they claimed their fourth score before Jake Kerr’s converted try and some concerted pressure in the closing stages led to a try for Tigers full-back Freddie Steward which made it 31-37 with two minutes still to play.
But, forced to play from deep at the restart, Tigers were penned back and, when the whistle blew at a breakdown, Sharks added the three points to deny the losing bonus point.
Tigers retained only Tomás Lavani and Charlie Clare from the starting line-up at Gloucester in Round 17 to face a Sale team who started the weekend in second place before wins for Wasps and Bristol saw them kick off in fourth spot.
Ford got the game under way in bright sunshine, with Tigers attacking the Robin Hood Stand End and his well-placed cross-kick on five minutes almost brought a breakthrough as Nemani Nadolo hooked high ball back into his left hand but then saw his offload bounce off Jaco Taute in support just a metre from the tryline.
Scrum-half Faf de Klerk put Sharks in front, landing a drop goal from 20 metres with nine minutes gone on the clock as Sharks played with advantage from a knock-on at a lineout on their right.
Tigers captain Ford levelled immediately when Ben Youngs tapped a penalty as Sharks retreated from the restart and, when referee Ian Tempest whistled for offside, the fly-half opened his account from 25 metres.
Sharks, though, came back to score their first try just after the quarter-hour, making the most of a succession of penalties to create a gap for MacGinty to go over, and he also added the conversion for a 10-3 lead.
From the restart, No8 Daniel du Preez was penalised for a block and Ford kicked the points.
Under pressure from a Sharks lineout, Tigers defended strongly with Tomas Lavanini and then Ellis Genge stepping in with tackles before winning a turnover on the floor. But the referee took play back to check the tackle from the Argentina international lock and, adjudging there had been no attempt to wrap arms as he met Akker van der Merwe, gave Sharks the penalty and issued a warning.
MacGinty hooked the kick wide but a second try came just three minutes later as De Klerk's penalty took play into the right-hand corner and, after play had been stopped for a head injury to Luke Wallace, an attacking scrum provided the platform to find Tuilagi who barged over under the posts. MacGinty’s kick made it 17-6 in the visitors’ favour.
The restart again brought a Tigers penalty and again Ford added the three points.
The whistle continued to punctuate play, with Tigers receiving a team warning as the referee twice played advantage before bringing play back for MacGinty to stretch the lead following a tackle off the ball.
Tigers had been starved of meaningful possession and had to defend as Rohan Jense van Rensburg showed his physical strength on the left before Taute took his fellow South African into touch and then Tuilagi spilled a toe-high pass on the right as the visitors reached half-time 11 points in front.
They increased that lead early in the second half after a break in midfield gave space to Denny Solomona on the right and, although Ben Youngs took him down, Sharks kept ball alive with Lood De Jager and Marland Yarde, for skipper Jono Ross to force his way over to the left of the posts. MacGinty added the kick to make it 9-27.
But Tigers claimed the next 10 points to drag themselves back into the contest.
First, Hanro Liebenberg supplied a try as the No8 charged down De Klerk's clearance 20 metres out and fielded the bounce to dive in under the posts for his first score for the club.
Ford kicked the extras and then added a penalty in front of the posts after another error in the Sharks defence, being guilty of throwing loose ball in their own 22 as Tigers pounced.
The gap was down to eight points for just a few moments, though, as De Klerk nailed a 40-metre penalty to make it 19-30 and Tigers were stopped by the whistle again as they looked to build some pressure from the restart kick.
Sale, though, got forward to claim their bonus-point score, showing composure and accuracy as Solomona dotted down in the left corner with 17 minutes remaining. MacGinty’s conversion from wide out made it 19-37.
Tigers replied as replacement hooker Kerr steered a maul over the line to provide hope of taking something from the game again entering the final 10 minutes and Ford made it six from six attempts off the tee at 26-37.
A strong carry from Ellis Genge, who bounced back to his feet through a tackle, took Tigers close to the line again. Although ball was eventually lost forward, the referee was alerted to an offside in the defensive line and Tigers chose to scrum five metres out.
Another penalty followed after Nephi Leatigaga attacked the line, but this time from the tap ball was knocked forward and chance gone with just under five minutes remaining.
Tigers kept going, though, and stayed on the ball to allow Steward to claim his first Premiership try, forcing his way over on the right to take the score within seven points.
It looked like providing some reward from the game but then, at the restart, Tigers were dealt a final blow when a penalty allowed MacGinty to chip another three points and give Sharks a nine-point margin.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
Thank you for following a frantic match at Welford Road on Matchday Live.
Tigers now have another short turnaround before a trip to Wasps on Wednesday, and an East Midlands Derby with Northampton Saints next Sunday.
You'll find us in the same place, right here on Matchday Live, bringing you blow-by-blow updates. Until then, goodbye.
FULL TIME | 31-40
...and that's the game. Plenty for Tigers to be positive about once more, but they'll be bitterly disappointed to go home empty-handed.
LATE PENALTY | 31-40
MacGinty splits the sticks with the final kick of the game and robs Tigers of a consolation bonus point.
CLOCK IN THE RED
Tigers attempt to run it from their own 22 as they eye a late game-changer, but a slip from Scott and turnover on the floor gifts Sale a shot at goal.
The conversion attempt is missed, so Tigers will have to weather a late Sale storm is they want to take anything from this game...
STEWARD SCORES | 31-37
...and it does! Freddie Steward gets the ball down to bring Tigers to within six, and a consolation bonus point.
Matt Scott spins through the tackle as the latest Leicester play to try and break through the red shirts, and surely the pressure will tell...
CHANGE IN THE ENGINE ROOM
Cameron Henderson is on in place of Tomás Lavanini.
The sound of frustration echoes around Welford Road as Tigers knock on over thewhitewash.
UP TO THE WHITEWASH
Sale frustrate the Tigers front row with some time wasting at scrum-time, but referee Tempest stops the clock and resets the scrum.
Tigers call on Ellis Genge from the set-piece, and the Baby Rhino draws three Sale defenders before he is brought down, five metres out.
The home side then win a scrum right on the Sharks' line for an offside, and Ben White will have the put in...
Harry Wells and Matt Scott combine at the next ruck to draw a Sale penalty, and Ford goes to the saem corner that paid such great dividends just moments before...
CONVERSION ADDED | 26-37
That's now six from six for George Ford. Nice.
KERR BARRELS OVER | 24-37
Tigers go from the lineout, and it's Jake Kerr who ends up with possession and a shove from his mates over the line.
Arron Reed replaces try-scorer Denny Solomona.
TO THE CORNER
There's another peep on referee Tempest's whistle, this time for two offences on the floor from Sale, and Ford makes no mistake with his touchfinder this time around. Great territory.
Tigers get the ball back on the edge of their 22, but Nadolo forces play down to the other end of the pitch with a neat drop onto his left boot that the first Sale defender leaves, creating a headache for his full-back.
9 AND 2
Ben Youngs and Charlie Clare's afternoons are over, with Ben White and Jake Kerr on in their places on the Tigers side.
TOUCHLINE CONVERSION | 19-37
MacGinty adds two more points from the touchline.
ONE-MAN OVERLAP | 19-35
Sale score through Denny Solomona by working an overlap on the left-hand side, and they have their bonus point.
PORTER FOR TAUTE
Jaco Taute jogs off as Guy Porter takes his place outside Matt Scott in the Tigers midfield.
But just as the Sharks smell blood on Tigers' five-metre line, du Preez is pinged for a breakdown penalty of his own. Breathe.
Leicester are pinged for a handling error just inside their own half.
THREE SALE CHANGES
Steve Diamond swaps both of his props, Valerey Morozov and WillGriff John into the action in place of Coenie Oosthuizen and Jake Cooper-Woolley, while Tuilagi is replaced by Sam James.
LONG-RANGE KICK | 19-30
Sale restore their 11-point lead with a big kick from scrum-half de Klerk.
BEYOND THE BALL
Jordan Taufua is penalised at the breakdown for going beyond the ball, and Faf de Klerk will line up a long-range penalty...
Nephi Leatigaga is on the field in place of Dan Cole, and gets his big frame over the ball in the Tigers 22.
THREE MORE... | 19-27
Ford adds three more points with a textbook penalty kick.
BALL WON BACK
The home side get the ball back on the floor, and then pressure the Sharks back three into a mistake. A real momentum shift, here.
EXTRAS ADDED | 16-27
Ford converts Liebenberg's score to further close the gap.
CHARGE DOWN! | 14-27
Hanro Liebenberg gets over for Tigers after a brilliant charge down on Sale, completely against the run of play.
David Williams is caught high this time, and Tigers can kick clear.
THIS WAY ... AND THAT
Both sides go to the sky, and Freddie Steward puts in a huge kick to test de Klerk ... but the full-back is caught late and requires treatment to his face. He's soon back on his feet and back into the action.
SUCCESSFUL CONVERSION | 9-27
MacGinty makes no mistake with the conversion this time around.
SHARKS CRASH OVER | 9-25
The Sharks swarm at an alarming speed up into the Tigers 22, and it's Jono Ross who latches onto the final ball out wide to crash over.
PLAY BROUGHT BACK
Sharks make the same move around the corner and onto the wing, but the ball bounces into touch. Tigers attempt a quick lineout into the hands of Ellis Genge, but he's brought back.
Sale come out of the blocks quickly and make a break down the left, but the last pass goes forwards and we'll come back for a scrum ... and the home side have it! Neat.
BACK UNDERWAY IN LEICESTER
The second half is underway at Welford Road.
HALF TIME | 9-20
Tigers trail at the break here at Welford Road.
Tom Curry leaves the field, to be replaced by No20 Matt Postlethwaite.
BACK IN POSSESSION
Ellis Genge carries up into the guts of the Sale defenders as Tigers attempt to break out of their 22 once more.
De Klerk kicks the ball in behind the main Tigers line and Steward returns in kind with a big siege boot downfield, but the World Cup winner finds touch with his next attempt.
...and it's HUGE! Just what the home side needed. A big push to get back almost on halfway.
Tuilagi drops the final pass in the right-hand corner, and Tigers have the put-in at the scrum...
UP THE TEMPO
Just as the game starts to lull ahead of half-time, the visitors try another of their strike moves, this time to the left with an increidble pick-up from scrum-half de Klerk, who feeds van Rensburg.
But Jaco Taute covers for Tigers, and pulls his fellow South African into touch.
Sale even have the bounce of the ball at the moment, as de Klerk's box-kick finds touch in the Tigers 22.
SALE PENALTY | 9-20
MacGinty extends the Sharks' lead with a simple three-pointer.
STEWARD STANDS STRONG
Hanro Liebenberg swallows the ball under immense pressure at the restart, but the visitors have the ball back in their hands just a couple of phases later as Tuilagi runs around the corner and aims at full-back Freddie Steward.
But the young development squad man stands strong, and brings down the former Tiger. Nice one.
THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS | 9-17
Three from three for Ford, as he ticks Tigers up to nine points in this game.
POINT TO POSTS...
Tigers immediately draw the penalty with the restart into the Sale half, and international half-backs Youngs and Ford have a look at the corner ... before deciding for a shot at goal.
EXTRAS ADDED | 6-17
MacGinty's conversion attempt is successful.
SHARKS TRY | 6-15
Sale pull the trigger out the back of the scrum, and de Klerk finds Manu Tuilagi who carshes over under the posts.
Jordan Taufua is onto the field in place of the injured Luke Wallace.
Sale push up to the Tigers line once more, but the game is neutralised after Luke Wallace takes a hefty hit to the head.
He'll receive treatment, as Jordan Taufua prepares to replace him from the bench...
...but it's a bad connection and the ball hooks to the left. Tigers will have the 22 restart.
TMO | NO ARMS TACKLE?
Ian Tempest wants a second look at the Lavanini tackle - and replays show 'no attempt to grasp', so Sharks have a penalty.
MacGinty calls for the tee...
Nadolo shows off his jackaling skills with an all-important steal on the floor in the corner, and Tigers can breathe a sigh of relief - for now.
The green, white and red line holds strong as Tigers attempt to repel a Sharks attack off the top of their lineout, and Lavanini bounces Akker van der Merwe backwards in midfield. Sweet.
IMMEDIATE RESPONSE | 6-10
Ford gets a chance at an immediate reply, and cuts the deficit with a quarter of the game gone.
Ford gets the game going again with a competitive restart, but Sale identify the threat and back-rower Daniel du Preez gives away a penalty for obstructing David Williams.
DOWN THE MIDDLE | 3-10
MacGinty adds the conversion and Sale now lead by 10 points to three.
SHARKS SCORE | 3-8
Sale put in some short-range missiles on the Tigers try-line, and it's AJ MacGinty with the show-and-go to get over the whitewash.
ON THE LINE
Sale force themselves up to the Tigers tryline and David Williams is called into defensive duty to stop van Rensburg forcing his way over.
PENALTY | OFF THE BALL
The Leicester locks spoil the Sale lineout once again, and so the ball comes back out to full-back James, whose attempt to chip and chase his own kick is stopped when Jaco Taute takes him down off the ball.
The Sharks win back possession after Luke James stops a Ben Youngs kick to touch with his boot, and the visitors reverse the play with a decent touchfinder of their own on the right-hand side.
THREE FROM THE TEE | 3-3
George Ford gets Tigers' tally going with a neat three-pointer from the tee.
Charlie Clare wins ball back for Tigers in the Sale half, and Ben Youngs goes quickly to pull his backline into the action.
Freddie Steward slips the first tackle and then draws the penalty a couple of phases later. Ford points to the posts.
DE KLERK DROP-GOAL | 0-3
Lavanini gets in amongst the Sale set-piece, so scrum-half de Klerk opts for a drop-goal off his left foot and he lands it to get the visitors on the board.
OVER THE BALL
Tom Curry gets over the ball on the floor for the visitors, and Faf de Klerk kicks Sale into the 22 for a lineout of their own.
Tigers are matched in the five-metre scrum on Sharks lines, but Tomás Lavanini does a great job of disrupting AJ MacGinty's clearance attempt and we'll have another lineout in the 22.
CHANCE IN THE CORNER!
Tigers go quickly off the top of the lineout and Ford picks out Nemani Nadolo with a sweet cross-field kick. The wing juggles, takes and is brought down on the line, but Jaco Taute can't quite take the final offload. Blimey!
Tigers have the feed at the first scrum, but Ben Youngs never gets a chance to put the ball in ... we reset once, then twice, but referee Ian Tempest penalises the Sale pack and Ford will kick to the edge of the 22.
Tigers are tested immediately as Sale call their big carriers into the game, but it's Freddie Steward who gets under the first high ball of the afternoon and he wins the penalty.
KICK-OFF FROM WELFORD ROAD!
George Ford gets Tigers underway in Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership.
SMOKE ON THE WATER!
Tigers head down the steps of a supporter-less Breedon Terrace, and we're just moments away from kick-off...
SUPPORT FROM HOME
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COME ON TIGERS!
The Tigers squad run through their final drills on the Welford Road pitch ahead of this afternoon’s Premiership encounter.
TEAM TALK | ANOTHER STERN TEST
Head coach Steve Borthwick says Tigers face an “exciting challenge” as second-in-the-table Sale Sharks come to Welford Road.
“They are second in the table for a very good reason,” he said. “They are a good side.
“It is a good opportunity for us to test ourselves against one of the best sides in the league and see exactly where the progress is that we have made.”
Watch the full Team Talk, brought to you by Topps Tiles, on LTTV.
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Tomás Lavanini and Charlie Clare are the only starters from last Sunday’s trip to Gloucester retained for the showdown with Sale.
But there are only tweaks to the Tigers team who dispatched London Irish in the midweek fixture, last time out on home soil.
Argentina international Lavanini partners Calum Green in the second row, with Harry Wells joining Luke Wallace and Hanro Liebenberg in the back row.
In the front row, Ellis Genge and Dan Cole return at prop either side of hooker Clare.
Ben Youngs and George Ford, who came off the bench to lead the fightback against Gloucester last weekend, are the starting half-back pair.
In their third appearance together in the Leicester midfield, international duo Matt Scott and Jaco Taute start at centre, with Freddie Steward at full-back in his fourth Premiership appearance, and David Williams and Nemani Nadolo selected on the wings.
Manu Tuilagi faces his former club for the first time, alongside RJ van Rensburg in the Sharks centres.
See the full match line-ups by clicking here, or by scrolling down on this page.
MATCH PREVIEW | TIGERS VERSUS SHARKS
Leicester Tigers face the tightest defence in Premiership Rugby when they welcome Sale Sharks to Welford Road this afternoon.
The Sharks, second in the table at the head of a pack of clubs chasing leaders Exeter Chiefs, have the best defensive record in terms of tries and points conceded as the Gallagher Premiership season reaches Round 18.
“Sale Sharks have got internationals across their team, they are a good side and they’re playing very well,” remarked head coach Steve Borthwick.
“They’ve a very big forward pack and a backline full of international players. We respect them, we do our analysis and then we focus on ourselves and what we have to do to take us forward.”
See all the important facts and stats in our full match preview here.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
We’re LIVE from Welford Road for Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership, as Leicester Tigers host Sale Sharks (3.00pm).
Follow all the action as it happens with our Matchday Live coverage, right here on the Tigers App and LeicesterTigers.com.