Luke McAlister outshone New Zealand World Cup colleague Aaron Mauger as Sale edged a hard-fought encounter to leapfrog Leicester in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
The rival centres, who arrived in England on lucrative contracts in the aftermath of the All Blacks’ World Cup quarter-final defeat to France, lined up against each other in midfield.
The classic duel never really materialised but McAlister exerted a greater influence than his compatriot and dovetailed effectively with fly-half Charlie Hodgson.
McAlister was desperately unlucky to see his late drop-goal attempt sail narrowly wide but he still found the time to convert a late penalty.
Hodgson, who again proved a trusty source of points for Sale with four penalties, outplayed errant opposite number Andy Goode who cost Leicester dear by spurning four of his side’s seven conversion attempts.
The only tries came late in the first half – from rival wings Rory Lamont and Johne Murphy respectively – as the Sharks extended their proud record of having not lost at Edgeley Park since a 26-25 defeat against Leicester in April.
And the majority of a 10,872 sell-out crowd were left to toast a victory which reaffirmed Sale’s title credentials.
The collision of the respective heavyweight packs soon warmed up proceedings on a bitterly cold afternoon, though it was Hodgson’s educated boot which made the first decisive contribution on the scoreboard.
Hodgson, who has been in outstanding form this season following his recovery from injury and World Cup snub, planted a high bomb deep into Leicester territory inside the second minute.
Sharks centre Lee Thomas narrowly failed to collect the ball on the edge of the Tigers’ 22 but the respite was brief as two Hodgson penalties put the hosts 6-0 ahead by the ninth minute.
But after Sebastien Chabal was punished for an infringement soon after, Goode’s three-pointer got the visitors off the mark.
In the 14th minute Mauger, who has made a slow start to life in the Premiership, hinted at his awesome capabilities.
He collected possession on halfway and, with a combination of searing pace and clever footwork, engineered the space for Goode to feed Murphy out on the left flank.
Murphy’s handling betrayed him and the richly promising move disintegrated before the pendulum began to swing towards Sale as the first half progressed.
McAlister missed a long-range penalty on the half-hour mark but he showed outstanding skill two minutes later to collect his own chip and chase and seemingly put supporting Julien Laharrague over the line.
Ollie Smith had other ideas, however, and the Tigers centre did superbly well to halt the full-back’s progress.
Hodgson claimed his third penalty after 35 minutes and after Goode erred with a three-pointer, the match exploded with a try from either side shortly before the half-time whistle.
First, Sale recycled the ball superbly from close to the Leicester line, working the ball through four pairs of hands and culminating in Scotland wing Lamont crossing in the left corner.
Hodgson failed to convert from close to the touchline and Leicester cut the gap to six points on the stroke of half-time when a bewildering array of passing saw Smith and Goode combine to send Murphy over in the left corner.
Goode failed to convert but two penalties from the fly-half put Leicester level shortly after the hour mark.
However, Hodgson struck again in the 65th minute and victory was Sale’s when Goode spurned another penalty attempt against the post in the closing stages.
And after McAlister saw his drop goal attempt sail just wide, the Kiwi did not falter with a penalty from distance shortly before the final whistle.