Sale missed out on a European Champions Cup spot after ending their Aviva Premiership campaign with a 35-13 home defeat by Leicester.
England fly-half George Ford scored 20 points with a try, three conversions, two penalties and a drop-goal. Jonah Holmes went over for two tries and Mike Williams also crossed as the Tigers avoided a third successive defeat to end a comparatively disappointing season in fifth place.
Gloucester’s defeat at Saracens meant that Leicester were assured of a top-six finish and with it a Champions Cup place but this was an opportunity missed for the seventh-placed Sharks, who came up short despite a valiant effort in front of a 10,015 crowd at a sun-kissed AJ Bell Stadium.
Already recoiling from their absence from the play-offs for the first time since 2004, Leicester at least had the consolation of finishing on a high and, of course, the 10-time English champions will have another European campaign to look forward to in 2019.
Centre Will Addison and full-back Mike Haley were given the honour of leading Sale out on their final appearances for the club as they head for the Irish provinces.
But Addison’s farewell lasted only eight minutes as he went off with a hamstring injury and had barely reached the tunnel when the Tigers opened the scoring.
The visitors attacked down the left and England winger Jonny May came up with a neat offload for Holmes, who had tracked across from the right wing, to force his way to the line for the first of his two tries.
Skipper Ford added the conversion to make it 7-0 but Sale came back strongly and AJ MacGinty cut the deficit to a single point with two penalties.
The Sharks might have been in front after producing clean breaks through centre Sam James and lively scrum-half Faf De Klerk while Holmes came to Leicester’s rescue with a timely interception after the latter looked set to score from MacGinty’s pass.
The Tigers had a clear edge in the scrum and Ford had two chances to reward his forwards for their industry but was unfortunate to hit the uprights with both penalty attempts to leave the score well-balanced at 7-6 at the break.
The Tigers dominated the early stages of the second half to open up a 20-6 lead, courtesy of two penalties and a try from Ford, who finished off a break by his half-back partner Ben Youngs.
But Sale got back into it thanks to a breakaway try from winger Marland Yarde after flanker Sam Curry had pounced on a loose ball following a lively break by Leicester full-back Telusa Veainu.
MacGinty’s conversion cut the visitors’ lead to seven points but flanker Williams made sure of Leicester’s victory when he got on the end of a midfield break by May for a try converted by Ford, who also added a drop goal.
Holmes then wrapped up the scoring with his second try in the last minute to give the visitors a flattering margin of victory.