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- Team Icon
- Team Name
- Sale Sharks
- Team Score
- Team Icon
- Team Name
- Exeter Chiefs
- Team Score
Sale Sharks 3
Exeter Chiefs 21
Mark Stevens at the AJ Bell Stadium
Santa Claus isn’t due for another three weeks yet, but Christmas certainly came early for Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs side as they made it three wins from three in the Aviva Premiership.
Devon’s finest moved back into the top four courtesy of an early Penalty Try and first half touchdowns from James Short and Will Chudley, while skipper Gareth Steenson completed the job with three conversions.
In reply, fly-half AJ MacGinty landed a penalty for the Sharks, but that was all they could muster on an evening when the Exeter defence ruled supreme, particularly in the second half.
Despite back-to-back victories over Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors in the past fortnight, Baxter made six changes to his winning formula for the long trip to the North West.
Four of those came in the pack where Carl Rimmer and Greg Holmes were added to the front-row, Geoff Parling was recalled in the second-row, while fit-again Don Armand came into the back-row for his first start since September.
Behind, an injury to Phil Dollman meant Lachie Turner was brought in at full-back, while new father Ian Whitten was replaced in the centre by Sam Hill.
The Sharks, meanwhile, were looking for a response of their own following successive losses to Saracens and Wasps and they made four changes to their starting XV.
Up front, Rob Webber and Cameron Neild were handed starts, as were Johnny Leota and former Plymouth Albion winger Tom Arscott.
Initially the Sharks set the early tone, but the Chiefs manfully dealt with the threat and stung their hosts with the game’s opening points through their own first attacking raid.
Olly Woodburn’s charge down the right flank instigated the attack from which the Chiefs gleaned a penalty. Steenson duly kicked that to the corner and after the first attempt was thwarted when Armand was pushed in the air, the Devonians used their second attempt to strike.
A well-crafted driving maul saw the visitors propel the Sharks back at pace, spewing them out of the side before Josh Beaumont cynically brought it to the floor. The England international was duly dispatched to the sin-bin, referee Wayne Barnes awarded the penalty try, and Steenson completed the job with a simple conversion.
Almost immediately, though, Sale countered with their first points of the night, MacGinty slotting a long-range penalty after the visitors had failed to roll away from the tackle area.
That, however, would be a rare bright spot in the opening 40 minutes for Steve Diamond’s side as the Chiefs ruled the roost for the remainder of the half.
Another driving line-out set the platform for Exeter’s second try, which arrived on 21 minutes. Parling took the ball in mid-air, his fellow forwards applied the shove before Chudley fed Short to dive over in the left corner.
Steenson slotted a sublime touchline conversion to double his side’s lead and he was on song once again five minutes before the break, this time adding the extras to a third touchdown from the visitors.
This time Short and Sam Hill opened up the home defence, the latter with a searing break right through the heart of the Sale midfield, before he offloaded to Chudley, who was able to scamper in from 20 metres out.
Sale did their best to claw something back before the interval, but the Chiefs were proving miserly in defence, gobbling up their every attack with relative ease.
HALF TIME SALE SHARKS 3 EXETER CHIEFS 21
No doubt warmed by a half time blast from Diamond, the Sharks re-emerged looking to haul themselves back into the contest. The initial exchanges seemed bright enough, but crucially there was no real end product from the hosts.
Experienced Irish scrum-half Peter Stringer was sent into the fray to liven things up for the Sharks, but he found himself meeting the same stubborn Exeter defence that Mike Phillips had encountered during the opening 40 minutes.
With both sides throwing themselves into some heavyweight collisions, the game somewhat lost the sparkle it had exuded during the first period. Sale seemed intent on kicking away possession every time they had it, while the Chiefs were guilty of turning over key possession when camped deep inside the home 22.
Attacking chances were at a premium as the minutes ticked by and it took until just past the hour mark for the Sharks to make their first meaningful threat. Stringer sniped off a maul wide on the right, before the ball was worked across the home backs to former Rugby League convert Josh Charnley.
With time and space to move in the former Wigan Warriors ace, he looked to barge his way to the line, but the Chiefs scrambled sufficiently to bundle him into touch and quell the danger.
As the game entered into the final quarter, so the Chiefs pressed hard to find that all-important fourth try. They huffed and puffed in attack, but a combination of solid home defending and handling errors prevented them from adding to their tally.
Late on the Chiefs lost Michele Campagnaro to the sin-bin for a professional foul, but even though they were a man light, Baxter’s troops dug deep to preserve their try-line, denying a late Sale surge.
The victory ensured it was a perfect three from three for the Chiefs in this latest Premiership block, but now they must ready themselves for an equally tough assignment in Europe where they face Bordeaux Begles back to back.
Sharks: M Haley (P Odogwu 78); T Arscott, S James, J Leota, J Charnley; AJ MacGinty (S Tuitupou 67), M Phillips (P Stringer 46); R Harrison (J Flynn 70), R Webber (N Briggs 60), B Mujati (H Aulika 50); B Evans, J Beaumont (capt); C Neild, B Curry (D Seymour 50), TJ Ioane (J Mills 61).
Penalty – MacGinty
Chiefs: L Turner; O Woodburn, O Devoto, S Hill (M Campagnaro 30-33, 67), J Short; G Steenson (capt), W Chudley; C Rimmer (B Moon 52), J Yeandle (S Malton 78), G Holmes (H Williams 52); M Lees (J Hill 59), G Parling; D Armand, K Horstmann (D Ewers 60), T Waldrom. Replacements (not used): J Maunder, J Simmonds.
Tries – Penalty Try, Short, Chudley; Conversions – Steenson (3)
Yellow Card: Campagnaro
Referee: W Barnes