Leicester Tigers were beaten 32-5 at Sale Sharks in Round 16 of the Gallagher Premiership season on Friday evening and lost back-rower Sione Kalamafoni to a red card midway through the second half.
Facundo Gigena’s first try in the Premiership gave Tigers an early lead, but Sharks came back to level the scores with 20 minutes gone on a cold and wet evening as lock Bryn Evans forced his way over from close range. They added a second through Denny Solomona just a few minutes later and held their 10-5 advantage at half-time.
The teams went into Friday’s contest tied on 34 points with Sharks in eighth place in the table and Tigers ninth, and it was the hosts who got the advantage in the second half, adding a third try before Tigers lost No8 Kalamafoni with more than 20 minutes still to play.
Three more scores followed, including a last-gasp penalty try as an injury-affected Tigers line-up emerged without reward for their efforts.
As well as the six players on duty with England, Geordan Murphy had to pick a Tigers team without Gareth Owen, Ben White and Sam Harrison, who were all hurt in the win over Wasps in Round 15, and he had only two backs among the replacements. Harry Simmons at scrum-half and wing Leonardo Sarto were starting a Premiership fixture for the first time.
Murphy was forced into another change when George Worth, due to start at centre, pulled up in the warm-up 15 minutes before kick-off. Sam Aspland-Robinson moved to the No13 shirt with Jordan Olowofela coming in on the wing. Freddie Steward, a member of the club’s Under-18 League winners for the last two seasons, earned a late call to the bench.
Sharks, with just two defeats in the last eight league games, got the game underway just as the rainfall increased on a chilly evening in the North-West but Tigers settled well and got off the mark with a try from Gigena who just did enough from close range to force his way over after a 30-metre break on the left from Olowofela had given the forwards sight of the tryline.
Referee Matthew Carley checked the replays and was satisfied the Argentine prop had reached the whitewash but Joe Ford, with the wind troubling the ball on the tee, was off target with the conversion.
From the restart, Tigers were unable to fully exit their 22 and then conceded a penalty at the breakdown. Faf De Klerk, though, shot wide of the left-hand post.
A series of scrums littered the next five minutes of play but Tigers had an escape when James O’Connor looked to get on the end of a cheeky little kick from fly-half Sam James, only for the ball to escape him almost within reach of the tryline.
Tigers, though, were pinned back and having to work hard in defence. Guy Thompson won ball on the floor to repel one attack and then Jonah Holmes had to dot down behind his own line, allowing Sharks the put-in from a five-metre scrum.
This time, Sharks got their reward with a try from Evans which provided the added blow of a yellow card for Ford as he slapped ball out of Sale hands on his own line. De Klerk missed again with the conversion with the scores tied at 5-5 on 22 minutes.
Sharks came straight back to add another five minutes later through Denny Solomona in the corner, awarded by referee Matthew Carley after checking the grounding. He also looked at a tackle in midfield by Joe Heyes but took no more action as De Klerk pushed his kick across the posts with his team 10-5 in front on 28 minutes.
Tigers recovered to play through phases of possession in attack but missed an opportunity when they were handed a penalty 30 metres out. With Ford still off the pitch, they went to touch but could not set up a drive.
Sale then thought they’d added a third score when James gathered a chargedown from Ford’s attempted clearance, but replays showed he had been in an offside position and half-time arrived with the home side still five points in front.
Play remained in the middle third of the field for the opening 10 minutes of the second period until wing Arron Reed’s break took Sale up to the tryline. The forwards finished the work after three more phases, prop Valery Morozov making the final push to stretch the advantage to 10 points at 15-5 as De Klerk missed another conversion attempt.
Solomona’s big hit on Holmes as he fielded a high kick forced ball loose and gave Sharks an attacking scrum on their right flank. They quickly transferred ball to the left but the kick in behind from O’Connor was too far for Reed to gather.
Tigers, though, were soon down to 14 men when Kalamafoni was red-carded as he cleared out Josh Beaumont at a ruck, referee Carley saying “shoulder to the head” as he check the replays.
Sale kept the ball close to the tryline, meeting defiant defence through half a dozen phases before Olowofela held up Solomona as he tried to score in the corner.
Relief was short-lived, though, as Sharks used their scrum to claim a fourth try with Josh Beaumont making the final touch. De Klerk missed the conversion with Sharks 20-5 ahead.
De Klerk received a yellow card as he took out Olowofela in the air soon after the restart and Ford’s kick to the left gave Tigers a rare chance in opposition territory. A second whistle followed, taking Tigers another 10 metres closer. Williams took the catch but the maul drove infield rather than advancing to the line and finally fell almost under the posts.
Tigers still had possession, however, with put-in at the scrum, but ball was lost when Reed ripped it in a tackle near the right touchline.
Strong work in defence snuffed out another Sharks chance as Ford and Holmes brought down Evans, then Olowofela stopped the dangerous Solomona.
Sale continued to use of their numeric advantage as they pushed Tigers back and De Klerk burst over from a five-metre scrum for a fifth try. As he left the field, Cameron Redpath missed the conversion but Sharks were 25-5 up.
Steward made his Premiership debut in the closing minutes, with Olowofela making way, and he immediately had to field a difficult kick over his shoulder to dot down behind his own line.
Time was up as the scrum set and with Tigers backpedalling, referee Carley awarded a penalty try in the final action of the game.