Brilliant Liebenberg sinks Sale to maintain Leicester’s perfect record

Not since 2014 have Leicester enjoyed a run like this. Not for seven largely barren years has this famous old club experienced such delight.

It explains much: the fervour, the passion, the roar that filled the Welford Road air as the whistle of the referee, Karl Dickson, confirmed a seventh successive Premiership victory, dating back to the end of last season.

“Tigers, Tigers!” rang out around the ground as Leicester again showed that the renaissance under their coach, Steve Borthwick, has genuine substance.

In maintaining their 100% start to the campaign against a title rival courtesy of an exhilarating 49th-minute try from the South African flanker Hanro Liebenberg, brilliantly created by Ben Youngs, the Tigers underlined their self-belief and collective desire.

“I said to the players in the changing room that I was really proud of their efforts,” said Borthwick. “If we had been on the wrong end of the scoreline I would still have been proud of them.

“I thanked them and that’s what we do each day. We have got a lot to get better at but what I’ve got is a bunch of young men who really want to work hard and get better.”

It was not pretty to watch but it was full of guts and courage, and that was enough for Leicester in front of a crowd of nearly 20,000.

There were 16 players among both teams who had been capped by England and another six who had earned international honours for South Africa. Yet much of the first-half fare was uninspiring with precious few try-scoring opportunities, although the physicality was often brutal with a glut of penalties.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Manu Tuilagi, who was given a warm reception from the home faithful before kick-off, returned for Sale in the centres but they were missing a number of half-backs including Faf de Klerk and Raffi Quirke, forcing Alex Sanderson to pair Kieran Wilkinson and Gus Warr.

Leicester, who had lost their past five meetings with Sale, were boosted by the return of George Ford, but their opponents threatened first when the ball was worked to Tuilagi from a lineout . He knocked on 10 metres out, though, when he seemed certain to score.

Sale threatened only fleetingly and Leicester went close in the left corner on the half-hour, only to be penalised for a maul infringement before the boot of Ford put them ahead. Wilkinson kicked a penalty to draw Sale level but a second from Ford gave Leicester a 6-3 interval advantage with another long-range penalty.

Shortly after the interval came true delight for Leicester as Youngs collected a pass from Jasper Wiese from a scrum before showing intelligence to send Liebenberg racing clear and over in the line in the right corner.

Ford added the extras and chances grew scarce thereafter as Leicester, buoyed an impressive display from Freddie Steward at full-back as he prepares to enter camp with England, dominated possession and pushed hard for a second try.

As it was, they had done enough and another penalty from Ford in the closing stages added gloss to the scoreline.

Sale had the chance to secure a bonus point iwhen Curtis Langdon barrelled over from a rolling maul but Tom Curtis missed the conversion.

Alex Sanderson, Sale’s director of rugby, said: “You’ve got to give credit to Leicester. They squeezed us out in the end but we also have to look at ourselves. We can get a better result next time by having better execution.”

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