The Sale Sharks reached their first Gallagher Premiership final in 17 years and ended Leicester Tigers’ hopes of back-to-back titles with a 21-13 win at AJ Bell Stadium.
Alex Sanderson’s side will take on his former club Saracens at Twickenham on May 27 in search of a Premier League crown that Sale last claimed when the likes of Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.
After finishing 10 points clear of Leicester during the league regular season, the Tigers pushed Sale to the end in an absorbing encounter.
Former Leicester fly-half George Ford played a key role in Leicester’s downfall, kicking three penalties and a conversion, while wings Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed claimed tries.
Sale overcame the sight of their captain Ben Curry carrying off injured, and they held off a tough effort from Leicester that saw a wing try from Harry Potter, plus eight points from Jimmy Gopperth’s boot.
But Leicester will also curse themselves for twice ruining promising late attacking platforms via wayward kicks to touch that prevented attacking lineouts.
Sale showed five changes from his last game of the regular season against Newcastle, with Gus Warr, Simon McIntyre, Nick Schonert, Akker van der Merwe and Tom Curry returning for the sold-out clash.
Leicester welcomed the likes of Freddie Steward and Anthony Watson, but suffered an injury when fly half Handre Pollard was ruled out, being replaced by the 39-year-old Gopperth.
The New Zealander missed a great chance to put Leicester ahead when he deflected a penalty from close range, but made amends three minutes later when the Tigers went ahead.
Sale’s indiscipline surfaced early on, and Gopperth found his range again, this time from 48 meters to make it 6-0.
The game was relentlessly paced, picking up speed as Sale found his rhythm, finding space through adventurous runs from Reed and full-back Joe Carpenter, while England center Manu Tuilagi also made his presence felt.
Sale was a threat when they were able to extend their possession, and Roebuck completed a fluid move before Ford added a touchline conversion as Leicester fell behind.
The Sharks then suffered a major blow when Curry dropped out of action after sustaining a suspected knee injury when Leicester attacked at 22 Sale. He was replaced by Dan du Preez.
Curry received a standing ovation as he walked out of the action, but was soon able to watch from the sidelines, with the Sharks putting up a sustained pressure inside the Tigers 22-yard line.
And the Tigers’ cause was not helped when their England prop Dan Cole received a yellow card from Wayne Barnes after a great tackle on Van der Merwe.
Leicester then lost scrum-half Ben Youngs to a head injury assessment after he saved Sale’s cross Rob du Preez’s corner, and the Tigers defense held their ground, with Sale taking a 7-lead. 6 at halftime.
Youngs did not reappear in the second period, fellow England international Jack van Poortvliet replaced him, while Sanderson made early use of the replacement bench, sending off props Bevan Rodd and Coenie Oosthuizen.
A successful Ford penalty from inside the Leicester half opened up a four-point gap, but the Tigers were back in front seven minutes later when a long pass from center Dan Kelly sent Potter running, with Gopperth converting.
A Ford penalty then leveled the game at 13-13 with 22 minutes remaining, and he then turned provider, creating space in midfield, and although his pass to Reed hit the ground, the wing finished brilliantly. .
Reed was at it quickly again, breaking from inside his own half before flicking the ball to replacement scrum-half Raffi Quirke, but the pass was correctly adjudicated by Barnes.
Ford, who was a dominant figure in the fourth quarter, then kicked a long-range penalty kick that left the Tigers eight points behind as they wrested the title.