Leicester Tigers moved into the Premiership top four for the first time this season as they began 2012 with a 28-23 victory over Sale Sharks at Welford Road.
Geordan Murphy scored an excellent first-half try to finish good work by Toby Flood and Billy Twelvetrees. Murphy's came after a penalty try for the Tigers scrum in the opening 10 minutes, and Alesana Tuilagi added a third for Leicester after the break.
Sale, who began the game one place above Tigers in the Premiership table, scored two tries of their own through Fraser McKenzie and Rob Miller. And the Edgeley Park club celebrated a losing bonus point on the final whistle thanks to Miller's drop-goal with the last kick.
Try-scorers Murphy and Tuilagi returned to the Tigers backline after missing the Christmas game at Worcester. Matt Smith moved to centre in the absence of the injured Manu Tuilagi.
In the pack, Martin Castrogiovanni and Dan Cole teamed up in the front row with Rob Hawkins starting at hooker, Graham Kitchener joined Ed Slater in the second row after injury to Louis Deacon and George Skivington. Steve Mafi and Julian Salvi returned to the back row alongside Thomas Waldrom. Samoan prop Logoviii Mulipola was named among the replacements for the first time.
The game was still settling down when Sale were forced into two early changes. David Seymour was replaced by Onosa'i Auva'a after taking a bang and Vadim Cobilas was a blood replacement for Henry Thomas.
Tigers turned down four penalties within kickable distance in the opening exchanges, opting to tap and go on the first two occasions and then two scrums. The decision paid dividends when referee Andrew Small, who had penalised the Sale scrum twice, went under the posts for a penalty try. Flood's conversion gave Tigers a 7-0 lead after seven minutes.
Ben Youngs turned the Sale defence with a chip after Castrogiovanni had intercepted a pass on halfway. Sale fullback Miller showed good composure to dot down behind his line under pressure from Horacio Agulla.
Tigers were pressuring the Sale defence and added a brilliant second try in the 15th minute. Ed Slater stole possession as Sale attempted to set up a maul from their lineout. Flood, who had just pulled a penalty kick wide, took up the charge, picking a path through the onrushing Sharks defence. He had Billy Twelvetrees on his shoulder and then Murphy to complete a flowing move next to the posts. Flood added the extras for a 14-0 lead.
Sale were given their first chance of points in the 19th minute. A solid scrum drew a penalty close to halfway but the visitors' flyhalf Nick Macleod was wide with his long-range effort.
Salvi produced a neat pass to put Waldrom through a gap on halfway and the Tigers No.8 was eventually stopped by Miller deep in the Sale 22. Tigers won quick ball and then a penalty for the Sharks going offside and Flood made it 17-0 with 15 minutes to half-time.
Sale were a threat on the break and it needed smart work by Steve Mafi to halt Joaquin Tuculet's break down the left and force him into touch. Kearnan Myall stole the resulting lineout, Auva'a darted through a gap and his pass was collected by Myall, under pressure from Agulla, before McKenzie applied the finish. Macleod reduced Tigers' lead by two more points with the conversion.
Macleod added three more points with a penalty from distance to leave Tigers 17-10 ahead at half-time.
Ben Woods was a half-time replacement for Salvi. For the Sharks, Cobilas replaced Thomas.
Macleod and Flood exchanged penalties in the opening five minutes of the second period, which kicked-off in heavy rain.
Sale settled quickly into the second half and enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening 10 minutes. They threatened through a jinking Dwayne Peel run that took him from the Tigers 10 metre line into the 22 where McKenzie's grubber went dead in goal.
Miller fumbled Flood's restart giving Tigers a platform in the Sale 22. Slater then blocked Peel's box kick but the ball beat him into touch in goal despite a diving effort to score.
It brought the Welford Road crowd to its feet and they had more to cheer moments later when Tuilagi finished off some good backs play to score a third Tigers try. Twelvetrees, Murphy and Smith were all involved and Tuilagi finished on the left. The score went unconverted and Tigers led 25-13.
Miller's run from under his own posts then took Sale deep into Tigers territory, where the Sale forwards hammered away looking for the finish. However, they knocked-on under the posts and the chance went away.
Instead, it was Miller who grabbed Sale's second score with a sprint from halfway, despite the efforts of Tuilagi and the suspicion of a forward pass by Andy Powell in the build-up. Macleod's conversion cut Tigers' lead to 25-20 with 15 minutes remaining.
Flood kicked Tigers more than a score ahead, and eased the nerves around Welford Road, with a penalty as the clock ticked into the final 10 minutes.
And he turned the pressure up with a kick to the corner at the next penalty moments later. Tigers won lineout ball but were unable to make the position pay as the Sharks stole possession on the floor.
With the last play of the game, the Sale fullback Miller landed a drop-goal to ensure they came away with a losing bonus point.
The 28-23 extended Tigers unbeaten run in Premiership to six games and means Richard Cockerill's men have now lost once in their last 11 games.
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Murphy, Tuilagi, penalty try
Cons: Flood 2
Pens: Flood 3
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: McKenzie, Miller
Cons: Macleod 2
Pens: Macleod 2
Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy (captain), 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Martin Castrogiovanni.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Logoviii Mulipola, 19 Ben Woods, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Micky Young, 22 Jeremy Staunton, 23 Scott Hamilton.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou (captain), 11 Joaquin Tuculet, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Andy Powell, 7 David Seymour, 6 James Gaskell, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Andy Titterrell, 17 Vadim Cobilas, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Andrew Higgins, 23 Will Addison.
Referee: Andrew Small
With thanks to Leicester Tigers
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.