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.