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Leicester push Sale aside
24 March 2007 17:22pm
Giant Samoan winger Alesana Tuilagi inspired Leicester to a 29-19 victory over Sale in the EDF Energy Cup semi-final at the Millennium Stadium.
Leicester meet Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals next week and are favourites to land the Guinness Premiership title.
The Tigers face either Cardiff Blues or the Ospreys in the second EDF Energy Cup final at Twickenham on April 14.
Conversely defeat ended Sale's last hope of Heineken Cup qualification after a season which has crumbled under the weight of a vast injury list.
They were a shadow of the side that smashed Leicester 45-20 in last season's Prmiership final and could not deal with the latest Tuilagi brother to shine for the Tigers.
Sale's Daniel Larrechea and Leicester fly-half Paul Burke exchanged penalties inside the first four minutes before the whistle of Welsh referee Nigel Owens dominated a disjointed opening half.
Owens was quick to penalise players at the breakdown and Leicester fell foul of his whistle five times in the first 13 minutes.
It led to a disjointed first-half and 27 pointless minutes passed before Burke edged Leicester ahead with his second penalty.
Not that both sides had not been trying to create opportunities, they were just stymied by mistakes and two dominant defences.
Larrachea did open Leicester up with a clever dummy on the Tigers 22 but delayed his pass too long and winger Jason Robinson was closed down.
Leicester then barged into the Sale 22 with a series of pick and drives but Sale resisted their charge with solid defence on their own line.
Tuilagi came off his wing but crashed into a huge tackle from Sebastien Chabal before Geordan Murphy darted for half a gap before being hauled down.
Sale came back at Leicester with Chris Jones striding through two tackles to put the Sharks on the front foot - only for Larrachea to dawdle, find himself isolated and turn the ball over.
Leicester failed to take immediate advantage as Andy Goode, on as blood replacement for Burke, fired a forward pass straight into touch.
But the tide turned in their favour when Tuilagi scooped up a loose ball and chipped ahead only for Andrew Sheridan to tackle him off the ball and earn 10 minutes in the sin-bin for his troubles.
Leicester then moved the ball quickly from a lineout on halfway and Tuilagi burst on to a short inside pass and ran in a brilliant solo try.
The giant Samoan winger charged through Larrechea and then left Laharrague, the French international full-back, on his rear end with a neat step off his right foot.
Oriol Ripol checked his progress with an ankle tap but could not hold on and Tuilagi stretched to score next to the posts.
Burke's simple conversion earned Leicester a 13-3 half-time lead.
The Sharks responded well after the interval and hit back through Chabal, who was sent clear down the right wing by Ripol's pass.
The French number eight first evaded Lewis Moody's diving tackle and then ducked under Murphy's less than committed effort to score in the corner.
Larrechea missed the conversion and was then replaced by Lee Thomas, who promptly booted Sale back within two points.
But Goode, now on permanently for Burke, slotted two long-range efforts as Leicester edged clear.
The Tigers lost Moody to the sin-bin - referee Owens finally lost patience with Leicester's breakdown tactics - but Tuilagi's power and pace did for Sale once again.
In a repeat move he crashed through Thomas' tackle and though Ripol held on this time Tuilagi flicked the offload back to Hipkiss who scored under the posts.
Sale did take advantage of Leicester being a man down and drove Argentina forward Igancio Lobbe over in the corner for a try confirmed by the television official.
But it was not enough as Tuilagi continued to menace the Sale defence in the closing stages and Goode dropped a simple goal as Leicester marched a step closer their trophy treble.
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