Charlie Hodgson’s final home match at Sale before joining Saracens ended in disappointment as the Exeter Chiefs spoilt the party with a superb 30-24 win.
The talismanic fly-half was at the heart of every Sale attacking ploy and duly slotted a penalty and three conversions, but it was the Chiefs who finished their away campaign in style.
Hodgson’s opposite number Ignacio Mieres scored 10 points to go alongside tries from wings Nic Sestaret and Matt Jess. And although Sale responded with two scores of their own from centre Chris Bell and lock Wame Lewaravu, Chiefs lock Tom Hayes sealed the win late on despite Will Addison’s consolation try.
Exeter looked the more potent early on and deserved the advantage given to them by a Mieres penalty. They extended their lead when, after numerous phases of pressure on the Sharks’ 22, the home side’s resistance finally cracked when good hands allowed centre Phil Dollman to draw the defender and offload to winger Sestaret.
Mieres converted but the Sharks hit back with some inventive play of their own. They were rewarded through a Hodgson penalty and the fly-half then helped level the scores at 10-10 with seven minutes to go until half-time.
Hodgson spotted an opportunity on the shortside before a neat pass from centre Andy Tuilagi put 18-year-old winger Addison into space, and his wonderful offload gave Bell an easy run to line. Hodgson added the extras and almost put the hosts in front on the stroke of half-time when he charged down Mieres’ drop-goal attempt, but the ball failed to bounce for him.
Despite the return of England prop Andrew Sheridan, Sale’s scrum struggled and a set-piece infringement allowed Mieres to regain Exeter’s lead. Eifion Lewis-Roberts was brought on to shore up the front row in his final appearance before joining French side Toulon.
However, it had little influence as it was the Chiefs who scored next. A mistake from Bell meant winger Jess could sprint clear for a converted try.
With just under 15 minutes to go, Sale gave themselves a lifeline when Lewaravu powered over, Hodgson converting. But substitute stand-off Gareth Steenson kicked a penalty before Hayes scampered over to seal the win despite Addison’s late score.