A vintage performance from Danny Cipriani put an abrupt end to Exeter Chiefs’ excellent Aviva Premiership Rugby run of form as Steve Diamond’s men moved into the top four.
In front of England head coach Stuart Lancaster, Cipriani shone in testing conditions – acting as the provider for Mark Cueto, who crashed over to give the Sharks control in the second half at the AJ Bell Stadium.
And he got in on the act himself shortly after – rounding off a fantastic team move with a try of his own that sealed a convincing win for the home side.
Sale looked the more likely early on, threatening the Chiefs try-line with such intensity that Damian Welch was yellow carded after just 10 minutes for trying to illegally alleviate the pressure.
And the hosts thought they had their just rewards shortly after when Dan Braid managed to squeeze over – only for the referee to rule out his score.
The Chiefs were giving away plenty of penalties and found themselves another man down as Ben White was sent to join Welch in the bin – Cipriani gave the hosts a 3-0 lead.
Despite having a numerical disadvantage, Exeter grew into the game and almost had a try through Jack Nowell but the wing couldn’t quite touch the ball down after a long chase.
The Chiefs levelled shortly after though as they earned a penalty of their own and Gareth Steenson made no mistake from the kicking tee.
Sale restored a three-point advantage after 31 minutes when Cipriani kicked his second penalty of the night and were looking good value for their lead as Exeter were again pinned back inside their own 22.
But again Sale couldn’t capitalise as Cipriani missed a penalty, the hosts coming in at the break with little to show for their dominance.
Sale started the second-half as they ended the first – moving the ball well but just failing to find the killer pass to break down a tough Chiefs defence.
Chiefs were doing well to stay in touch as Sale turned the screw but they were struggling to clear their lines.
And the Sharks finally found a way through on 50 minutes when great play from Cipriani opened the door for Cueto to crash over in the corner for his 87th Aviva Premiership score – Cipriani converting brilliantly.
The gap was now ten points and Exeter needed a way back into a match that was slowly slipping away from them.
They began to close that gap on 53 minutes thanks to three more points from the boot of Steenson but Sale turned it on yet again with beautiful handling from Will Addison and Cueto freeing up Cipriani, who dived over to move the Sharks further ahead.
It would be the fly-half’s final contribution however after he limped off and left Joe Ford with a difficult conversion that struck the upright.
With less than ten minutes remaining Thomas Waldrom got the Chiefs back to within a converted score with a try from a rolling maul, although Steenson couldn’t convert.
But it was a false dawn for the Chiefs, who never built the momentum to mount a serious threat to Sale’s dominance in the final stages, leaving Steve Diamond’s men to secure their fourth consecutive league win.