Sale Sharks’ hopes of reaching the quarter-finals in the Heineken Champions Cup suffered a dent after their narrow 20-22 defeat to the Exeter Chiefs.
Tries from Stuart Hogg and Luke Cowan-Dickie as well as a penalty try saw the Chiefs dampen spirits of a capacity crowd at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Despite an early penalty from Sale’s Rob du Preez, Exeter raced into a 12 point lead through a penalty try and a brilliant chip and chase effort by Scotland international Hogg.
Sharks hooker Akker van der Merwe grabbed a try back, latching onto the end of a loose ball and going over in the corner to grab his fifth try of the season.
In the 26th minute of the match, Cowan-Dickie put two scores between his side and the hosts – leaving Steve Diamond’s men a mountain to climb if they were to salvage anything from the game.
Despite falling 14 points behind, there was good news for Sale as Hogg failed a Head Injury Assessment a minute after the try. This meant that he could play no further part in the match.
van der Merwe couldn’t keep out of the action and he had his second try of the match less than 10 minutes before the break – nine points the difference.
The difference could have been two points at half-time, however Sale winger Marland Yarde spilled the ball over the line following a brilliant passage of play.
The second-half was largely uneventful with both sides creating chances. Sale spent long periods in the Chiefs’ half and created pressure time and time again.
They were eventually rewarded five minutes from time when captain Jono Ross went over from close range – Exeter succumbing to the relentless pressure.
A conversion from du Preez put the hosts within two points, but the Sharks were unable to snatch the victory. They take a losing bonus point from the game and remain third in Pool Two.
Sale continue their Champions Cup campaign next weekend when the two sides meet again in the return fixture at Sandy Park.
Image credit: Sale Sharks