Departing club captain Toby Flood scored the try that sealed Leicester Tigers’ Aviva Premiership play-off place with a 42-22 bonus-point victory over Sale Sharks.
Flood departs Welford Road after six years at the club this summer and has been on the periphery as the announcement of his departure has coincided with the emergence of young Welsh fly-half Owen Williams.
But, replacing centre Anthony Allen on 29 minutes, Flood helped himself to a double while scores from Niki Goneva, Niall Morris and a penalty try saw the Tigers build an unassailable lead despite a late flurry from the Sharks.
Indeed, Michael Paterson, Henry Thomas and Johnny Leota all went over in the last 20 minutes but it couldn’t stop Leicester taking their place in the play-offs for the tenth successive season – David Mele putting the icing on the cake with try number six at the death.
Sale, who came into the match with slim hopes of reaching the top four if they could down the Tigers, put pressure on Leicester’s try-line virtually from the kick-off, but then conceded a penalty just inside their own half. However, Owen Williams’ 45-metre attempt drifted wide of the right-hand post.
Sale then thought they had the opening try as Charlie Ingall intercepted the ball and ran through, only for referee JP Doyle to pull play back for a knock-on in the tackle.
From the resulting scrum it was Leicester who claimed the first try. Their forwards made good ground, Williams chipped forward and Goneva touched down for his 12th Premiership try of the season. Williams added the extras from in front of the posts.
Danny Cipriani put Sale on the scoreboard with a penalty, and Leicester then missed three opportunities to extend their lead, Williams off target with two further penalty attempts and Allen having a try ruled out for a forward pass in the build-up.
The game became increasingly stop-start as half-time approached, both sides making a high number of handling errors.
That pattern was finally broken by Leicester, with a fine passing move leading to Flood, on for the injured Allen, keeping his composure to score in the corner. Williams added the conversion and Leicester went into half-time 14-3 to the good.
Leicester made the faster start to the second half, and Irish winger Morris scored their third try of the match after a good run and off-load from Williams, who again added the conversion.
That was the signal for Sale to bring on four of their replacements, but the forward momentum remained with the visitors, and the bonus-point try came just ten minutes later.
From a line-out in the Sale 22 they worked their way infield and Flood found a gap in the hosts’ defence to score his second of the game.
Tigers could smell blood now, and their dominant scrum pushed Sale back towards their own posts, referee Doyle awarding the penalty try.
The game was effectively over as a contest, but Sale got their first try of the afternoon with 15 minutes remaining, the in-form Paterson finding space on the left-hand side and running through to touch down in the corner.
As a result, the home crowd refound their voice, and suddenly Leicester were coming under increasing pressure.
Thomas scored a try in his final home game for Sale after good work by the forward pack, before Samoan centre Leota weaved through to score a superb individual effort.
But the Tigers had the final say, Mele darting over from the back of the scrum, soon after Sale full-back Tom Arscott was sent to the sin bin, Williams again converting.