Sale Sharks held off a ferocious Exeter Chiefs comeback to extend their unbeaten home record this season with a 23-17 win at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Sale dominated the first half and crossed three times to lead 17-0 as they looked to build on their excellent home form.
Johnny Leota, Nev Edwards and Mike Haley, in fortuitous circumstances, all went over in a fantastic opening 40 minutes.
However the second half belonged to the Chiefs, with converted scores from Jack Yeandle and Dave Lewis, but improved kicking from Danny Cipriani after the break was just enough to keep the visitors at a safe distance.
It hadn’t looked as though the Sharks would be on top in the first half though when they lost prop Ross Harrison to a yellow card after just eight minutes.
The loosehead tackled Will Chudley after he had taken a quick penalty, and was sin-binned for his troubles.
Exeter couldn’t make it count though, and instead lost winger James Short to a yellow card of his own, when he collided with Will Addison in the air.
With both teams down to 14, it was the Sharks who opened the scoring after a great carry from Dave Seymour. While Phil Dollman was able to stop him, the ball was recycled quickly and Johnny Leota made the most of the massive overlap to cross on the right. Cipriani missed the conversion.
Harrison returned soon after and with the extra man Sale extended their lead through Edwards. Sam James set it up and good hands sent the flyer over.
Cipriani was again off-target with the conversion and Sale led 10-0, although Exeter had enjoyed more of the possession.
The half got even worse for Chiefs in the closing minutes as Haley showed his opportunistic side. A Cipriani drop goal attempt came back off the post but the full-back was quickest to react and went over. Cipriani finally kicked his first points of the afternoon with the conversion.
Exeter needed to start the second half quickly, and they did just that, getting on the front foot early. The pressure eventually told with skipper Yeandle on hand to cross for the visitors’ first points. Gareth Steenson converted to cut the deficit to ten points.
Sale were eager to kill off any hopes of a comeback, and quickly stretched their lead when Cipriani slotted a long range penalty.
Trailing by 13, Exeter were given some tricky decisions when they had a couple of kickable penalties. They chose to go for the corner rather than the posts, and that came back to haunt them as the first led to a knock-on, while Sale were able to steal the second lineout.
Still, they didn’t give up hope, and with 12 minutes remaining they got back to within a score thanks to their second try. It came after some good scrummaging close to the line and while Sale just about held, Lewis was able to snipe his way over. Steenson’s conversion took Exeter back into bonus point territory.
It didn’t last long though, with Cipriani replying with a penalty following a good break from Edwards to make it 23-14.
Exeter gave it their all to try to at least get away with a late bonus point and they looked to have it when Steenson nailed a long-range kick.
But going for the win, they ended up conceding a penalty instead, which gave Cipriani the chance to deny the Chiefs a bonus point. But his effort was well wide and although Exeter tried to run it back, their attack came to nothing and eventually they had to settle for a point.