Manu Tuilagi reflected on “a different feeling” of not playing for Leicester at Welford Road after he helped Sale Sharks beat his former club 40-31.

The England centre, who left Leicester in July after rejecting a 25 per cent pay cut, made a try-scoring return as Sale regained second place in the Gallagher Premiership.

“I loved it,” Tuilagi told BT Sport.

“It has 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, and it was a different feeling not playing for Tigers, but it was just nice to get the win.”

Asked for his take on Tuilagi’s display, Sale boss Steve Diamond said: “I was really pleased.

“He wanted to play to exorcise a demon, and I think he did that by scoring a try.”

It was a trademark Tuilagi score, illustrating enviable power and strength as Leicester defenders were left scattered.

The Tuilagi try highlighted a dominant first 50 minutes by Sale, with fly-half AJ MacGinty and captain Jono Ross also claiming touchdowns, while MacGinty kicked three conversions and a penalty and Faf De Klerk dropped a goal.

Tuilagi was replaced midway through the second period just after a De Klerk penalty, and despite Leicester having their moments – Hanro Liebenberg, Jake Kerr and Freddie Steward scored tries and George Ford kicked 16 points – they were ultimately eclipsed.

Sale wing Denny Solomona claimed a bonus-point try 17 minutes from time, with MacGinty’s conversion giving him a 19-point haul.

Diamond added: “We wanted a win and we got a win.

“Overall, I am happy. We got five points, and I have never got that here before, so it’s a good win for us.

“They are a different team now that Steve (Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick) has got hold of them. They fight for everything. It’s the hardest game we’ve had this season.

“It was a very physical encounter. There are a few broken bodies in there (changing room).”

Reflecting on the play-off race, Diamond added: “Exeter are a step above everybody, and they have proven that. Bristol got a bonus point last night, Bath did today, and we’ve got to match them.

“If we slip up now, it is down to us, nobody else. It is a five-horse race, still.

“I see it going down to the wire. I think those who manage their squad best over the next week or so will get the ascendancy.”

The only downbeat note on a dominant afternoon for Sale was their England flanker Tom Curry going off on the stroke of half-time and not returning after failing a head injury assessment.