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    • Manu Tuilagi scored for Sale against his old club Leicester in 31-40 victory
    • The England centre said he ‘loved it’ as he scored against some ‘good mates’ 
    • AJ MacGinty was a prominent figure as Sale keep their play-off dream alive 

    For a moment, it felt just like old times. 

    The opposition pack had been bullied, before the ball was shifted to Manu Tuilagi to pump his legs and score under the posts at the Mandela Park end. 

    It is a sight that Leicester Tigers fans used to live for on a Saturday afternoon, except in the new normal their favourite son was wearing the colours of Sale.

    Manu Tuilagi scored for Sale Sharks against his old club Leicester Tigers in 31-40 victory

    The centre scored under the posts as he explained he 'loved it' on his return to Welford Road

    The centre scored under the posts as he explained he ‘loved it’ on his return to Welford Road

    Win or lose, this was always going to be Tuilagi’s day. His homecoming was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the season and he lived up to the billing with a try to keep Sale in firm contention for a home play-off.

    ‘I loved it,’ said Tuilagi. ‘It’s been my home for so many years, so I was excited to come back. I’ve still got the Leicester accent and I don’t think that will ever change. I was playing against good mates of mine. It was a different feeling not playing for Tigers but it was just nice to get the win.’

    With Tuilagi combining with Rohan Janse ven Rensburg in a 220kg midfield, Sale set out to outmuscle the hosts in the collision area. Faf de Klerk’s early drop goal was cancelled out by a George Ford penalty, but Leicester’s tackle count went up and up as Sale’s forwards attacked in waves.

    They eventually created a hole for AJ MacGinty to score first, before Tuilagi extended the lead with his side’s second. It was his first try for his new club and, after being mobbed by his new team-mates, he clasped his hands in prayer and looked to the heavens.

    ‘Manu’s got a lot of history at the club and he wanted to play to exorcise a demon,’ said Sale coach Steve Diamond. ‘I think he did that by scoring a try.’

    AJ MacGinty was prominent figure for Sale as he scored the first try and kicked plenty of points

    AJ MacGinty was prominent figure for Sale as he scored the first try and kicked plenty of points

    Leicester troubled Sale at the scrum and lineout, but they found themselves three tries down when Jono Ross scored after 45 minutes. The hosts had just 19% of the first-half possession, having struggled to build attacking platforms as they kicked for territory. Giant winger Nemani Nadolo is Leicester’s answer to Tuilagi but they struggled to unleash his powerful running lines.

    However, Sale lost flanker Tom Curry to a head injury and Leicester started to capitalise on opposition mistakes. No 8 Hanro Liebenberg charged down De Klerk’s kick to score, before Marland Yarde’s loose pass gifted Ford another three points from the boot.

    Denny Solomona quickly replied with a bonus point try for Sale, but Leicester’s heavily rotated team again refused to roll over. Jake Kerr scored from a splintered driving maul, before Freddie Stewart narrowed the deficit to six points after 79 minutes.

    ‘We gave ourselves too much to do,’ conceded Tigers coach Geordan Murphy. ‘If there were five more minutes at the end, we could have had a grandstand finish.’

    But instead, MacGinty wrapped up the match with one final penalty, and victory belonged to Tuilagi.

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