Tigers’ development squad took a bonus-point victory in their return to Premiership Rugby Shield action against Sale Jets at Heywood Road.
Six tries through Harry Simmons, Charlie Hudson, David Feao, Sam Lewis, Fred Tuilagi and Valentino Mapapalangi saw the visitors home in a comfortable 19-40 win, after they ran away with the game in the second half.
Development head coach Ant Allen called on eight guest players from Loughborough Students plus two Doncaster Knights in his matchday 23, who all played their part alongside returnees Tatafu Polota-Nau and Valentino Mapapalangi, among others, in what was an impressive display in the fixture rearranged from earlier in the season.
Tigers looked a clinical outfit in the first half, scoring tries on all three of their visits to the Sale 22 through scrum-half Simmons, guest wing Hudson and prop Feao.
The Jets scored two tries of their own and perhaps should have had more given their pressure in the Tigers 22, but the Leicester line held strong to pin the score at 12-21 at half time.
Leicester held firm in a rough and tough 10-minute spell at the start of the second half, but capitalised against some tired Sale bodies in the final quarter by adding three more tries through Lewis, Tuilagi and Mapapalangi.
Tigers converted early possession immediately, when Harry Simmons scythed through the Sale defence to run in the first try of the match, which Hardwick duly converted.
But Sale hit back almost immediately, pinning Tigers into their own corner with a canny kick to touch. While the Leicester attack repelled the initial drive, the ball was recycled for Jed O’Keeffe to dot down. Emiliano Calle Rivas added the extras to make it all square at 7-7 with five minutes played.
After a frantic start, both teams looked to take the game by the scruff of the neck, though Sale were unable to convert points from a period of sustained pressure in the Tigers half.
And it would be the visitors who scored next, as James Spencer took a high ball under massive Sale stress. Tigers pushed up the field before Hardwick used a long, looping pass to draw the last two defenders to allow Charlie Hudson to gallop in on the right for his side’s second score. Hardwick once again made no mistake from the tee.
The Jets were soon back on the Leicester line, and made great ground after Ma’afu was penalised for not being 10 metres at a quick tap penalty. But Sale knocked on when they were looking most dangerous, and Simmons duly booted the ball down the field to take play back towards the Sale FC club house.
And the pack would do their bit, too, winning a vital scrum penalty on halfway which Hardwick was all too happy to kick into touch. He combined well with his guest backline from the lineout, with Aaron Tait making a dart down the left wing, only to be met with a solid Jets defence and a crunching tackle that left him requiring minor treatment.
Cam Jordan plucked the ensuing lineout out of the Salford sky with ease, and Tigers set about battering the home side’s line. The Jets held strong, but only just; as Charlie Hudson was bundled into touch over the corner flag on the right hand side.
The Sale throw went awry, and fell into the hands of a surprised – but grateful – David Feao, who bundled the ball over the line for a third Tigers try just beyond the half-hour mark. Hardwick once again added the extras to pin the scoreboard at 7-21.
The Jets hit back on 37 minutes with a couple of scrums on the Tigers line, and when the ball found its way to Ewan Ashman, he crashed over to take the score to 12-21. Calle Rivas wasn’t able to add the conversion, though, and that would be the last real action of the half.
The home side came out with a real energy at the start of the second half, and when Hardwick knocked on under the high ball they made the most of the opportunity to pin Tigers in their 22 through a scrum penalty and then a lineout drive.
But once again the Leicester engine room did it’s job, holding out Sale through phase after phase and winning a scrum penalty – and then free kick at the scrum – after almost 10 minutes of pressure.
Tatafu Polota-Nau was soon on at hooker for his first run out in Leicester colours after his loan spell with the Waratahs, and found his man at the lineout in the form of Cam Jordan.
Tigers and Loughborough Students full-back Spencer was equally strong in the air, taking a high ball with ease before a slick backs move worked the ball up the field. It was a forward who finished the move, though, when Sam Lewis caught the ball over his shoulder and crashed over for the bonus-point score, which Hardwick converted.
Fred Tuilagi was next in on the act, after Hardwick turned down a shot at goal and opted for a lineout instead. The No8 latched onto the back of the ensuing lineout drive, and crashed over for his side’s fifth, which Hardwick once again kicked.
With the game into the final 10 minutes, Valentino Mapapalangi made the most of some tired Sale bodies and sniffed a hole on the right hand side, which he used to great effect to crash over for a sixth Tigers try. Hardwick missed the conversion, though Tigers now led 12-40.
Sale took a late consolation against the run of play when Jonty Rawcliffe intercepted a wayward pass in midfield, and Calle Rivas added the two points before Tigers closed out the match for a full time score of 19-40.
Full Time | 19-40
Tigers close out the game and take the spoils in this Premiership Rugby Shield match against Sale Jets.
Final score is 19-40 with six Tigers tries.
Calle Rivas converts from in front of the sticks.
Sale, completely against the run of play, score an intercept try through - we think - Jonty Rawcliffe.
Dan Cuthbert and Tom Walsh both join the Tigers fray, in place of Sam Lewis and Charlie Hudson.
Sixth Tigers Try
Valentino Mapapalangi fancies a score, spotting a hole on the right hand side to crash over for his side's sixth.
Three More Changes
We've also had a couple of changes on the Tigers side, with Taylor Gough, Will Lane and Josh Lewis all onto the field in place of Henri Lavin, Harry Simmons and Tim Bitirim.
Hardwick's conversion makes it 12-35.
Tigers turn down a kick at goal on the 22, instead opting for the lineout and it pays dividends with Fred Tuilagi crashing over from the back of the drive.
Guest prop Matt Talaesi is on for try-scorer David Feao.
Hardwick coverts to make it 12-28 with almost an hour gone.
SLewis with Skills
Tigers full-back James Spencer takes the high ball with ease, and the ball is worked up the field with some great offloads. Sam Lewis - now on-field captain - takes the ball over his shoulder and crashes over for a bonus-point try.
Pressure Off (For Now)
That is greeeat D from the Tigers boys. They repeal yet more Sale pressure on their try line, and win a scrum penalty. Simmons will have the put in...
Two Changes For Tigers
A couple of changes in the Tigers front row as Tatafu Polota-Nau and Owen Hills join the game in place of Ross McMillan and Campese Ma'afu.
No Way Through
The Leicester line is holding strong through phase after phase of Sale pressure. The home side thought they were over at one stage, but referee George Selwood thought they were just short.
Sale look to have come out with a real energy in this second half, and make the most of a couple of Tigers mistakes to once again be knocking on the visitors' try line...
No changes to either side at the break, and Emiliano Calle Rivas kicks us off for the start of the second half.
Half Time | 12-21
Tigers have been really clinical in the first half of this Premiership Rugby Shield match, scoring tries on all three of their visits to the Sale 22. They lead 12-21 at the break.
Jets Hit Back
The Jets hit back almost immediately, and after a couple of scrums on the Tigers line Ewan Ashman crashes over to score. Calle Rivas misses the kick.
Hardwick adds the extras once again and we're up to 7-21.
The Sale lineout goes awry, and David Feao plucks the ball out of the air and flops over the line to score.
That's The Corner Flag
Tigers win the scrum penalty, and Hardwick combines well with his guest backline as Aaron Tait makes a tasty dart down the left wing.
Tigers batter the line and work the ball out to the right, but Charlie Hudson is tackled into touch over the corner flag.
Time for a breather as players from both teams receive a bit of treatment. Tigers are still pinned just inside their own half, but will have the put in to the next scrum.
Real frantic stuff, this. Sale look to build on some sustained pressure in the visitors' 22, but Tigers lines hold strong as they win a scrum just beyond their try line.
Two more from the boot of Tom Hardwick make it 7-14 with almost a quarter of an hour gone.
Tigers Add A Second
Tigers win the battle in the air with a fantastic James Spencer take, and after pushing down field a looping Hardwick pass draws the defenders for Charlie Hudson to cross the whitewash.
Both teams are looking to get a hold on this match, and we scrum down for the first time this evening.
Sale win a penalty after a reset, and kick to touch just inside Tigers' 22, but lose the ball forward and now we'll have a Leicester scrum...
Emiliano Calle Rivas converts, and we're all square.
Sale Hit Back
Sale hit back almost immediately, and while Tigers repel a five-metre lineout the ball is recycled and the Jets score through Jed O'Keeffe.
Hardwick adds the extras from the tee to put Tigers seven points ahead.
First Blood To Tigers
Tigers convert early possession as Harry Simmons makes a break up the middle of the pitch to take the first points of the match.
Kick Off At Heywood Road
Tom Hardwick gets us underway at Heywood Road.