Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond believes his side came up against the Leicester Tigers of old after they were soundly beaten in their Aviva Premiership Rugby clash at Welford Road.
The Sharks haven’t beaten Leicester since 2009 and it didn’t look like that hoodoo would end as the home side asserted their dominance early.
A Freddie Burns penalty got things going and, while Nick Macleod briefly restored parity, Laurence Pearce crashed over on 12 minutes and the Tigers never looked back.
It was a brutal and calculated opening 40 minutes from Richard Cockerill’s side who took advantage of most of their forays into Sale territory, Burns adding another three before converting a penalty try shortly before the break to put his side in total control.
Sale weren’t helped by their lack of discipline after Tom Arscott and Magnus Lund both saw yellow as the match slipped away.
And Diamond admits his charges were beaten by the better side as the Tigers leapfrog his team into fifth place.
"We were comprehensively beaten in the first-half, we were bullied. Leicester were the Leicester of old at home,” he said.
"Their forward pack got hold of us and ragdolled us. We only had 10 per cent possession.
"In the second-half we got back into it and had a bit of a brain freeze. We could have got a bonus point out of it if we had had more composure and kicked those penalties from in front of the posts."
While Leicester started the second half with intensity they lacked the same bite as before and Sale came out swinging.
A yellow card on 47 minutes for the lively Seremaia Bai gave the Sharks the chance they needed to close the gap.
And they did just that shortly after when the ball was swung from right to left and found its way to Arscott who dotted down under pressure.
It was a glimmer of hope for Sale but, as time wore on, the optimism diminished and normal order was resumed.
Burns added a penalty and while a bonus point looked unlikely, Bai dotted down before the death to round off an impressive display.
The result leaves Cockerill’s side joint-fourth with Bath Rugby and the director of rugby believes they are right in the hunt.
"We are going into the business end of the season now and everyone has got to hold their nerve, us included,” he said.
"It puts the pressure on Bath who have been running away with it. Now they are going to be put under pressure because they have to win, and Sale go there next week.
"It makes it really interesting. We have been rubbish all season but we are still in the mix. Let's see who blinks first."
Leicester Tigers: Tait, Scully (Loamanu 66), Goneva, Bai, Thompstone, Burns, Harrison (Mele 64), Crane, Gibson, Pearce (Thacker 66), Parling, Thorn (De Chaves 53), Mulipola (Balmain 64), Briggs, Ayerza (Rizzo 64)
Replacements not used: Whetton, , Bell,
Sale Sharks: Haley, Arscott, Leota, Cueto, MacLeod (Ford 43), Cusiter (Cliff 64), Beaumont, Lund, Braid (Easter 64), Hines, Mills (Seymour 56), Cobilas (Cobilas 72), Jones (Taylor 28), Lewis-Roberts (Harrison 56)
Replacements not used: Brady
Tries: Pearce, penalty, Bai
Conversions: Burns 2
Penalties: Burns 3
Referee: Greg Garner
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