James Short bagged a bonus-point to help settle a helter-skelter game in favour of Exeter Chiefs, who remain on course in Aviva Premiership Rugby after winning their sixth league game of the season.
Chiefs crossed through Thomas Waldrom and Will Chudley in the first half but Danny Cipriani’s eagle-eyed kicking, allied to Will Addison’s score, meant the teams went in at half-time on ten points apiece.
Josh Beaumont then nudged the visitors ahead early in the second half, but back came Chiefs via the impressive Chudley and Gareth Steenson, who was not at his most accurate from the tee, nevertheless came through with an important penalty.
Then Short, denied by the TMO before the break, gave Exeter breathing room – Steenson’s conversion took the game out of a score’s reach and Tom Johnson added gloss to the win.
Exeter suffered a chastening defeat at Clermont last week but controlled much of the opening exchanges in the face of stout Sale defending.
Sam Tuitupou’s turnover broke up a patch of promisey, and at the other end Cipriani landed the first blow from the tee to put the visitors ahead.
But a burst from Jack Nowell had Sale pinned back again and, in the 15th minute, Sharks’ resistance was broken as a series of pick and goes resulted in – who else – Waldrom crossing.
Steenson, bringing up his century of Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances, saw his conversion lost to the wind but Chiefs would be back for more soon after.
Following good work from Don Armand at the line-out, scrum-half Chudley squeezed through a gap and dotted down. This time Steenson’s conversion was on target but the elements brought the ball up short.
Sale, twice victors over Castres during the European break, roared back before long though as smart work from the lineout opened up space for Addison – Cipriani converted his score and suddenly it was 10-10 with 25 minutes gone.
Both sides went hell for leather to round out the first half but there was to be no further score, with Short adjudged to have been stopped in the corner, upon referral to the TMO, following another Chudley surge.
Sale made the most of that reprieve after the break as Cipriani, who would go on to add the extras, prised open Exeter and Beaumont steamed through the middle to touch down.
But if there was one man intent on turning the tide Chiefs’ way it was Chudley, who again was too quick of both foot and mind for Sale in grabbing his second try of the day.
Steenson was off-target with the extras but realigned his kicking radar by scoring his penalty soon afterwards, and Exeter found themselves a point ahead going into the last quarter.
And the Sandy Park faithful could breathe a sigh of relief when Short picked up a loose ball and dashed over the line – which also brought up the try-bonus point.
Steenson converted and the result was put beyond doubt when replacement Johnson followed Short over the line soon afterwards. Will Hooley added a further three points with the last action of the game.
Boxing Day Sale! Click here to grab a bargain with 20% off tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May at Twickenham.