How did it go down?
Well, there isn’t a huge amount to write about on this one I’m afraid. The match started at a deadlock and we had to wait until the half-hour mark for Gareth Steenson to kick the first points of the game, but even that didn’t last long as Faf De Klerk hit back four minutes later. Exeter were building pressure through their tight game and it looked like they were going to find a way through, but the Sale defenders were able to hold on time after time and the teams went in at halftime at 3-3.
Lachie Turner managed to find a way through early in the second half as he noticed a rare gap around the Sale breakdown. The Australian wing took his opportunity and broke a tackle to scamper in under the posts, Steenson kicking the conversion to make it 10-3. De Klerk slotted another penalty three minutes later to tighten the scores. The game did burst into life in the final stages with a Sam James chip starting a counter attack from deep before the ball found its way to Denny Solomona, but the Chiefs scrambled to bring him down before the line. Sale kept knocking at the door but were eventually penalised for going off their feet at the breakdown, allowing Exeter to escape with the win, the final score at 10-6.
So what did we learn?
Sale a tougher prospect than thought – The main takeaway from this game was the degree of difficulty that it took to dispatch a tough Sale team at home. Exeter’s closing strategy when close to the opposition tryline has been touted as unstoppable, but for the most part they were not able to break down the Sharks. The positives a team can find after a loss at home are limited but Sale will take some consolation from the fact that they were able to run one of the strongest teams in the league so close and were even in a position to snatch victory. The other teams in the league will not be relishing a trip to the AJ Bell after seeing how Exeter have struggled.
Solid performances from England hopefuls – It really wasn’t a night for the neutrals with only one try scored and the winning side only just making it to double digits, however Henry Slade did show a few flashes of his ability in the thirteen channel lending credence to the theory that it is his best position. Tom Curry may have had the brightest performance of those on show as he was instrumental slowing the ball in what was a very effective performance from the Sale back row. Sam Simmonds’ excellent footwork in the tight spaces bought him a few good metres, but overall we didn’t seen many of the flashy breaks that we’ve become used to in previous weeks.
Referee controversy – Well I’m clutching at straws for a game that wasn’t one for the neutrals, but Sale Director of Rugby Steve Diamond aired his views on a penalty conceded in the dying minutes in no uncertain terms. It isn’t a massive surprise to see Diamond expressing his opinion honestly on these matters but he does have a point, players on the attacking team do not seem to be subject to the same degree of scrutiny as their defensive counterparts when it comes to staying on their feet at the breakdown. The lack of consistency on this issue does make it frustrating when a player is called out in this at a key point in the game when it hasn’t been a refereeing point previously.
How did that prediction go?
Well the result was right but the manner in which it was achieved was not so I won’t take any credit on this one. Exeter did come away with a win but it was very close to going the other way in the final stages and they will be relieved to come away with the points. It wasn’t the flashiest but it was a nice surprise to see a more competitive game than I expected.