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Match Reaction: Sale Sharks 14-20 Exeter Chiefs

Match Reaction: Sale Sharks 14-20 Exeter Chiefs

Exeter Chiefs did their title credentials no harm by grinding out a victory at the AJ Bell, succeeding where Saracens failed and overcoming a resilient Sale Sharks.

First-half tries from Ollie Devoto and Don Armand gave Chiefs a 15-point advantage at half-time but Sam James struck back for Sharks after the break.

Sale continued to pile on the pressure but a controversial try by Sean Lonsdale meant the late score by Will Cliff wasn’t enough for the hosts to upset the league leaders.

MAN OF THE MATCH – FAF DE KLERK

The diminutive South African was at the heart of every Sale move throughout the game, took on most of the kicking duties, and didn’t shy away from any big tackles.

Sharks’ scrum-half almost orchestrated a try within the first ten minutes, and broke through the Chiefs defence on a number of occasions to make some yards up for his team.

The 27-year-old was instrumental for his team’s first try, recycling the ball several times in front of the Chiefs tryline before playing the crucial pass for his half-back partner Sam James to get over the line.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

With only three points in the game after twenty minutes, Sale looked capable of another giant-killing at the AJ Bell. However, a rare mistake from Sam James gifted Exeter possession and the league leaders kicked into the space in behind Sharks’ defence.

Santiago Cordero chased, carried and offloaded to the onrushing Ollie Devoto to score in the corner. After a lengthy TMO delay, referee Ian Tempest awarded the try despite Devoto’s leg appearing to be in touch.

TRY OF THE MATCH

There’s nothing pretty about it, but a well-crafted forward’s try can be just as pleasurable to watch. For the final ten minutes of the first-half Sale were pinned within their own 22 as wave after wave of Exeter pressure descended on them.

Whilst Chiefs’ first try was created by their backs, Exeter’s second was down to the patient yet relentless play by their forwards. Don Armand may have finished the attack, but all of Chiefs’ forwards could take credit for the making of it.

WHAT THEY SAID

Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond: “That was a lot of effort, a lot of blood, a hard game. The side that made the least mistakes probably got it in the end. We line broke quite well in the first half but we couldn’t finish them off. I think they got the rub of the green with the bounce, which allowed them to get that try. I’m not too disappointed but I’ll have a pint over the bonus point and I’ll have a look at the performance of the referee tomorrow.

“The last pass to score their final try, however you can describe it leaving the hands, it was caught two and a half metres in front of where it was released from. That’s good momentum for them and that’s what you get when you’re top of the league.

“We’re on the march. I think we’ve got a really committed set of lads and we’ll dust ourselves down. I think the results have all stayed similar. We’ve got Leicester here on Friday night and if we can win that we go into the break in and around the top six.”

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter: “You obviously don’t want to prepare for tight games because you want to try to win nice games of rugby. But whenever we prepare to come here, because history says it, the reality is that was a ding-dong battle like we’ve had here for a number of years. At the end there it was see-sawing and going to come down to one score, or who can hold it together and make the least mistakes.

“We’d like to be in and around that top two on our own merits on the results we get and not what other teams get. By winning here today we keep things in our hands and where we want to end up in the shake-up at the end.

“If you have four props away any team is going to get stretched. We have four props and a hooker away, five out of your starting front six front-rowers, and every team in the country is going to miss guys like Henry Slade and Jack Nowell. We’ve actually had quite a large number away but the guys have soldiered on and we’ve had invaluable game time into two young props again today.”

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