Ceiron Thomas guided Leeds to their first-ever win over Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park.
Leeds had failed to overcome Sale in 17 previous attempts but the fly-half’s poise and faultless kicking ensured a morale-boosting win for the Guinness Premiership strugglers. Thomas kicked 14 points as well as instigating the crucial try scored by substitute scrum-half Scott Mathie.
It had looked so good for the Sharks after Charlie Hodgson converted Kristian Ormsby’s early try. But, despite another Hodgson penalty, Sale failed to breach Leeds’ resilient second-half defence and slumped to a sixth successive defeat in all competitions.
If there was a positive for the Sharks, it was also one for Wales. Dwayne Peel did his chances of a swift return to the international rugby stage no harm as he not only completed the 80 minutes, but was sharp throughout. Peel, looking to prove his fitness to Wales head coach Warren Gatland after a groin injury, started the game alongside countryman Dafydd James, who was making his home debut for the Sharks.
Peel’s opposite number Andy Gomarsall was making his 200th Guinness Premiership appearance – becoming only the sixth player to do so – while former Sharks hooker Andy Titterrell was also part of an unchanged Leeds side.
Thomas gave the visitors the lead with a simple drop-goal in front of the posts after two minutes. But Leeds and their fly-half were soon on the defensive, with Thomas making a shuddering try-saving tackle in the corner to deny rampaging prop Eifion Roberts.
Sale were hitting their stride and moments later they went ahead. Hodgson spotted the overlap on the left and swept the ball out to Ormsby, who held the defence before slicing back on the angle and going over the line. Hodgson added the conversion.
The visitors’ cause was not helped when Gomarsall’s milestone match ended after 20 minutes, with a leg injury taking its toll on the 35-year-old scrum-half. Despite his departure, Leeds stayed in the game and Thomas reduced the deficit to a point with a penalty.
Thomas was then at the heart of the move that led to Leeds regaining the lead after 32 minutes. The fly-half sneaked his way through the centre of the Sharks defence – exposing the Achilles heel of Hodgson’s game – and set up position deep in the hosts’ 22.
After a couple of sapping phases, Mathie – a former Natal Shark from South Africa – barged his way in at the corner. Thomas’ flawless few minutes continued as he landed the touchline conversion.
Sale reduced the deficit soon after half-time. Peel took a quick tap-penalty that caused chaos in the Leeds defence and Hodgson calmly slotted the penalty after a high tackle on Marika Vakacegu.
But Leeds replied immediately with Thomas’ second successful penalty. And the fly-half opened up a nine-point lead, punishing more Sale indiscipline, with 21 minutes remaining.
Sale fought hard to regain a foothold in the game, and a rare poor kick to touch from Thomas gave them a lineout five metres out. For once the lineout that had let them down all game was accurate but the resulting drive was not and Leeds cleared.
Chances were scarce for Sale but a flowing backs move did put David Bishop over in the corner with four minutes remaining only for Leeds hands to prevent the grounding of the ball, and it was the visitors celebrating at the final whistle with a famous win.