Leicester Tigers suffered only a second defeat of the season as Sale Sharks ran in four second-half tries in a 35-26 win on Sunday in Round 14 of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Tigers had a 13-point lead at half-time following a textbook mauled try from Julian Montoya and a solo score from Guy Porter on the left wing, but Sharks responded after the break to protect a home record showing just one defeat in any competition at the AJ Bell Stadium since last February.
Luke James got Sale’s only points of the opening period but three tries in a 15-minute spell after the break took them in front around the hour and they sealed the points with another in the closing stages.
Both teams are without England players, with Burns and Richard Wigglesworth coming into the Tigers tem at half-backs, while Hanro Liebenberg returned to the squad after injury and on-loan Olly Robinson joined him among the replacements.
In the club’s change kit of white, black and orange, Burns got the game started on a dry but cold afternoon and just moments later he kicked the opening points with a kick from just short of halfway.
When Sharks built some dangerous territory, Tigers got out of the line quickly, with Jasper Wiese and then Montoya, who won a penalty on the floor, from which referee Craig Maxwell-Keys marched Sharks back an extra 10 metres.
An 80-metre clearance kick from Porter after Sale spilled possession in attack had the hosts turning on their heels, but play returned to halfway when Burns over-hit his kick into space and the ball ran dead behind the posts.
The fly-half judged his next kick perfectly, though, pushing Sharks back and, when a penalty award followed, Tigers claimed the opening try as Montoya finished from a lineout drive featuring the eight forwards and a couple of backs for good measure.
Burns added the conversion for a 10-point lead but it lasted only a couple of minutes as dropped ball from the restart gave Sharks a scrum and they moved play to the right where full-back Luke James found a way through to the tryline.
Fly-half AJ MacGinty was just wide with the kick though and Porter soon added his sixth try of the season as the match passed the 20-minute mark.
With the Sharks defence facing him on the left wing, Porter showed great strength and pace after taking ball near halfway and blasted through one tackle before fending-off a second to dive in and re-instate that 10-point lead.
Burns saw his conversion attempt come back off the near post but he was back in the action with a chip-kick which almost brought another score, as the referee had to check the replays before denying the Tigers fly-half.
Tigers, though, had a penalty just short of the line, quickly followed by another before Sharks met the next lineout and were able to clear to halfway.
Dan Kelly showed his pace in defence when Jono Ross kicked loose ball upfield, but after recyling cleanly when the centre won the race, Tigers knocked-on inside their own 22. Sharks tried to attack off the base but a counter-ruck at the breakdown, led by Wiese, shut them out and earned a penalty.
Richard Wigglesworth’s chargedown on opposite number Will Cliff had Sharks in trouble, but Kelly’s kick through to Scott was closed out by the defence just 10 metres from the tryline.
Burns added his second 50-metres penalty to push Tigers 18-5 in front five minutes from half-time and, although Sharks closed the half with two attacking opportunities, they were kept out as the defence preserved that 13-point lead.
The second period started with both teams looking for territory, and when Matt Scott ran ball back strongly in midfield, Sharks were whistled again and Burns made no mistake with the kick, making it 21-5.
Sale came back to attack wide on the left but Wigglesworth read it to take Byron McGuigan into touch.
The referee had been playing advantage, though, and MacGinty kicked into the corner, setting up the position for Ben Curry to break off the edge of their maul to score. The conversion made it 21-12 to Tigers.
After being penalised in attack, though, Tigers were back under the posts as Sharks broke from halfway and gave Arron Reed a chance to race into the left corner for their third score. MacGinty’s kick hit the post with just four points separating the teams at 17-21.
And they went in front when No8 Dan du Preez blocked a kick from Hegarty 40 metres out and recovered quickly to run in for their bonus-point score. MacGinty’s conversion from in front of the post put the hosts 24-21 ahead.
A scrum penalty brought respite for Tigers as they set up a maul again on the right and they were playing with another advantage when van Poortvliet raced on to Kelly’s ball out wide.
Sharks recovered in defence but play came back for the penalty and this time ball stayed with the forwards who patiently worked their way to the tryline for Montoya to score again and make it 26-24 to the visitors.
But the home crowd were back on their feet when MacGinty broke through in attack and, although Tigers got back to prevent the try, referee Maxwell-Keys awarded a penalty and the USA international fly-half kicked the points for a 27-26 lead.
A moment later, he added another to put some daylight between the teams and, direct from the restart, wing Tom Roebuck took possession and ran clear on the right for their fifth try.
This time MacGinty’s conversion hit the post but they were still 35-26 ahead and Tigers were back in their own half again when they gave away a penalty and were unable to take any points from the trip North.