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AJ MacGinty stars as Sale beat Leicester Tigers to move to second in Premiership table

·4-min read
AJ MacGinty kicked 16 points to overhaul Danny Cipriani as Sale’s second highest Premiership points scorer - ROGER EVANS 
AJ MacGinty kicked 16 points to overhaul Danny Cipriani as Sale’s second highest Premiership points scorer - ROGER EVANS
  • Sale Sharks 26 Leicester Tigers 10

There can only be so long that AJ MacGinty retains his status as the Premiership’s most underrated player before the Sale Sharks fly-half is properly recognised as one of its premium performers.

The Dublin-born American international joined Sale as a replacement for Danny Cipirani in 2016. Over that time, he has gone from raw to refined. On Friday night, MacGinty delivered a consummate performance behind a dominant Sale Sharks pack. He kicked 16 points to overhaul Cipriani as Sale’s second highest Premiership points scorer, unleashed an array of flicks and chips, and produced one of the prettiest assists of the season for wing Bryon McGuigan.

The pass cut out two defenders and hit McGuigan in stride and he stepped inside Kini Murimurivalu to score. Had Cipriani thrown that type of pass social media would have been abuzz, but this is the type of excellence that Sale’s coaching staff take for granted. They are now up to second and look well set for a play-off place. Their forwards won the battle of the South African packs with Akker van der Merwe, Jean-Luc du Preez and new British & Irish Lion Tom Curry to the fore. Even when they were reduced to 13 men for 10 minutes in the second half, Leicester were kept at arm’s length. It was in this period where Faf de Klerk came into his element, the Springbok scrum half took it upon himself to make enough tackles for three men despite being the smallest man on the pitch.

It continues an unfortunate trend in ill-discipline for Sale Sharks that director of rugby Alex Sanderson says they will have to put right in the season run-in.

“We seem to be gluttons for punishment,” Sanderson said. “We seem to enjoy the challenge of having 13 or 14 players on the pitch. We are unable to solve the mystery of how to keep 15 players on the field. There’s a mental issue we need to address. Under real pressure we seem to creak in terms of our discipline.”

Marland Yarde impressed in front of England coach Eddie Jones  - GETTY IMAGES
Marland Yarde impressed in front of England coach Eddie Jones - GETTY IMAGES

MacGinty struck his first penalty before creating the opening try on 10 minutes. The excellent Marland Yarde made the initial thrust down the right, motoring over Johnny McPhillips. The highly rated Bevan Rodd maintained the momentum with a big carry in the middle before MacGinty flung the perfect pass for McGuigan to score.

As befitting two sides with heavy South African influence, there was a lot of kicking and not a lot of subtlety. Poor old McPhillips conceded two penalties in a row, first when he played into all sorts of trouble through a horrible rushed pass by Youngs and then less forgivably taking his eye off the ball. On both occasions, Sale’s scavengers descended to feast upon the scraps. MacGinty converted both to take Sale out to 16-0.

Leicester had barely fired a shot in the first half, bare a Zack Henry penalty. That was wiped out by MacGinty’s fourth penalty at the start of the second but the game turned on its axis after a rare MacGinty mistake when he kicked out on the full. From the resulting lineout, Youngs sniped and Hanro Liebenberg thundered on forcing Sale to concede a penalty.

There followed a period of nearly four minutes of constant Leicester pressure around the Sale tryline which resulted in yellow cards for Jean-Luc du Preez and then Luke James, the latter for knocking Henry’s crosskick away from Murimurivalu. Referee Tom Foley added the penalty try for good measure.

The momentum of the match seemed set to shift further with Sale defending with 13 players. No doubt due to the influence of director of rugby Alex Sanderson, Sale seemed to relish the desperation of their numerical disadvantage. Yarde made one brave tackle on Freddie Steward running at full steam before De Klerk hurled himself like a missile at Liebenberg to force a knock-on.

It speaks volumes about Sale’s passion that they came closer to scoring and once they were restored to their full complement they immediately claimed their second try. Patiently they worked their way through the phases inside the Leicester 22 before Yarde applied the finishing touch in the corner. In front of England head coach Eddie Jones, back from Japan, Yarde was probably the standout English performer although Steward, the Leicester full back replacement, and Sale replacement scrum half Raffi Quirke caught the eye in their cameo appearances.

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