Danny Cipriani helped himself to 17 points against Leicester Tigers as Sale Sharks kept up their impressive home record in a match which was temporarily halted due to lightning.
In an entertaining Aviva Premiership Rugby match which saw five tries, thunder and lightning and a 12-minute halt in proceedings, Cipriani capped off a fine man of the match display with the match-winning try on 70 minutes.
His first-half break helped set up Cameron Neild for the game’s opening try before his hack forward towards the touchline was skilfully gathered in by Will Addison for Nev Edwards to add a second before the break.
But Leicester Tigers played their part in the match too, with tries for Tommy Bell and Vereniki Goneva helping to draw the sides level at 20-20 on 62 minutes – shortly after the match had been temporarily halted due to player safety with thunder and lightning overhead – before Cipriani had the last word despite late Tigers pressure.
It was the hosts who made the brighter start with a number of quick breaks including one by Sam James on the far touch line but he failed to play in Edwards on the outside and was eventually tackled.
But they were soon awarded a penalty and Cipriani made no mistakes from right in front of the posts for 3-0 after two minutes.
Tigers looked to respond immediately and Ben Youngs almost got to the line after a quickly taken penalty but he was held up.
But the visitors maintained the pressure and were handed a boost when Tommy Taylor was shown a yellow for coming in at the side of the maul.
From the resulting play, Youngs looked to have played in Goneva for his third try in as many games but the winger knocked on agonisingly short after good pressure from Edwards, while the supporting Burns also appeared to pick up an injury after a knock to the back.
The visitors did not come away empty handed though with Freddie Burns knocking over a simple penalty minutes afterwards to draw the scores level.
The first try of the game arrived on 21 minutes and it went the way of Sale Sharks after a superb break through midfield from Cipriani, with Edwards picking up the pass before the ball was eventually recycled back to Neild to go over for his first Aviva Premiership Rugby try.
Cipriani added the extras and Leicester’s misery was compounded with Burns forced off the pitch having failed to recover from his earlier knock.
Owen Williams was able to step up in his absence to knock over a penalty though to make the score 10-6 after 24 minutes.
Five minutes later, Sharks had their second try of the game and it came after some clever skill on the near touchline from Will Addison.
With the ball hacked forward by Cipriani from close to the hosts’ own line, the ball appeared to be bouncing out but winger Addison managed to keep it alive ahead of Tigers’ Bell before gathering in, with Edwards then picking up the baton to run in. Cipriani added the extras for 17-6.
But there was still time for a third try of the match before half-time as a break through the middle eventually saw Manu Tuilagi feed Bell to score in the left-hand corner, with Williams’ conversion making it 17-13 at the break.
Tigers were reduced to 14 within two minutes of the restart when Laurence Pearce was sin-binned following an infringement at the breakdown and Cipriani made them pay with his fourth penalty of the match on 43 minutes.
The weather was also taking a turn for the worst, with thunder, lightning and heavy rain making playing conditions difficult.
And on 54 minutes referee Tom Foley made the decision to take both teams off with concerns over player safety due to the lightning with the scoreline at 20-13.
After a 12-minute break in proceedings, action resumed with a Leicester scrum, although it was Sale who found their rhythm the quickest when they almost scored a try from Cipriani’s drop goal attempt.
The fly-half’s attempt was well off target but Bell and Mathew Tait appeared to get in each other’s way when touching to touch down safely leaving Edwards a simple touch for the try but the TMO ruled that the Tigers players had managed to get a touch on the ball.
And the visitors responded in style to draw level on 62 minutes, spreading the ball from right to left from the line out before Goneva made no mistake this time to power over, with Williams successful with his touchline conversion.
The action was not done there though with the fifth try of the match going the way of Sharks after a powerful run by Cipriani.
Picking the ball up, the fly-half darted his way past the advances of four Leicester players to cross in the corner, and then converted his own effort to make it 27-20 with ten minutes left.
Leicester Tigers looked for a way back into the game but despite pressuring the Sale line, could not find the breakthrough as they settled for the losing bonus point.
If you want to be at the world’s biggest club rugby final, this year’s Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May, tickets are still available from premiershiprugby.com/final.