It looked a bit rugby, at times it seemed to share some of the rules and was certainly played with an oval ball by mostly 15 players but it definitely was not rugby.
With no recognised fly half fit for action Tigers first had teenage scum half George Tressider fill the gap, then after half time decided to play no fly half at all. George Catchpole seemed the nominal fly half but all the backs took turns looking clueless at 10.
If any spectator was in any doubt about the importance of the maestro at 10 they surely aren't now. Without any threat of a the kick or chip Sale could play 15 men flat in a line and out flank anything Tigers threw at them.
Tigers played almost the entire game in the Sale 22. They had the ball for at least three quarters of the match. They were kept scoreless for 72 minutes.
Tigers knew that to get a semi final place they needed 4 tries, they seemed to forget that they also needed the win.
Sale had two chances and took them. The first try was from a smart break by Nathan Fowles the England Under 20s half back. Fowles made the snip around the fringes of the ruck before passing to hooker Cameron Neild to finish off for a 7-0 lead after only 3 minutes.
Tigers then proceed to chart the course of the rest of the match by gaining territory, earning a penalty, kicking it to the corner and messing it up.
It was another 20 minutes until Sale's second chance came but they took it smartly. Sam Harrison was charged down giving the Tigers a lineout around the 22. The lineout was overthrown and the wily Aston Croall pounced on the ball surging through the attempted tackle before turning and passing inside to lock Tom Sanders for the try. 12-0.
Tigers again took the play to Sale but with no one fixing the defence it merely went side to side with no cutting edge.
The scrum was simply a mess with uncountable resets. Tigers had the forward shove but Sale number 8 Juan Crous dealt with it superbly simply by picking and going. Our Flankers were caught flat footed near enough every time. Despite the power clearly being on our side the first two penalties were awarded to the Cheshire side.
The second, for standing up in the scrum, was kicked to within 5 meters of the line. Quick ball off the top was swept to former Huddersfield and Fylde fly half Chris Johnson for the snap drop goal. 15-0.
Just 4 minutes later and Sale had a penalty. This time the scrum had gone down but referee Craig Maxwell-Keys gave the penalty in favour of Tom Bristow. If only that was the end. The Sale pack flatly refused to give the ball to the Harrison, then attempted to drag him into a fight. Bristow being the nearest player to this cynicism reacted.
So the result of this Sale penalty then Sale deny the ball to the team offended against? Yes obviously it was a reversal and a yellow card for Bristow. Given it took neigh on 20 penalties inside the Sale 22 for the visitors to see yellow it must have been some punch.
As an aside I googled Maxwell-Keys to see just how old he is and the first page of results contained 3 match reports all complaining of his handling of matches. Now I know "good ref" isn't a headline but that tells its own tale.
Deserved or not it made the score 18-0. The half was cut short by a nasty looking injury to the impressive Fowles. The injury cased play to stop. Now the way I understand the rules is that the ball has to go dead to end the half, an injury break is not a dead ball so the game should continue. 40 minutes were up but the way the half was only halted once the injury looks serious suggests to me the full time had not been played on the referee's watch.
The second half was largely one large blur of mediocrity. No one really stepped forward and took control. Tigers just re-cycled the ball over and over again with no real shape or direction. The penalty count rocketed as Sale pushed their luck.
Tigers were so concerned about the try count they took their eye off winning the game. With no penalties kicked at goal Sale's only concern at the breakdown was a yellow card. Even after a warning it took another 4 penalties for one to be produced for try scorer Neild.
Laughably from the very next lineout Aston Croall entered the maul from completely the wrong side, literally walking around the back and stopping our scrum half taking the ball. The referee saw it. He gave the penalty. But no card? You've just binned a man for cheating in the maul, it clearly hasn't deterred them so bin another one.
It took the full 10 minutes of playing against 14 for Tigers to batter the Sale defence down and score the try. Irish number 8 and captain for the day Michael Noone squeezed over after every man and his dog had a crack at the line.
The simple art of drawing your man and passing seems beyond all our players at every level at the moment.
To be fair Harry Thacker did it a few times. Maybe play him at 12 on Saturday?
Tigers up turn in fortune was basically a result of trying harder. Harry Wells broke a tackle, Pasquali smashed a ruck and suddenly the team had energy where before it was lacking. The crowd got stuck into the ref a bit more and suddenly we were in the ascendency.
But still the Sale defence stood firm and the penalties kept coming. Miles Benjamin eventually sneaked through the middle of the ruck to score again but it was too little too late. The referee indicated 6 minutes left and Tigers tried to the end but a Thacker knock on after a fantastic break was the last chance.
With every first team shirt up for grabbs this was a poor show from the team. No leaders really stood out and none of the backs took control in the way a Matt Smith or Matt Cornwell would. On that show I can see why Cockerill is reluctant to pick these guys, they are hardly making an unanswerable case.