Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter insists his side still have work to do to secure a top-four finish in the Gallagher Premiership despite opening a 14-point advantage over third-placed Sale with a 32-22 win at the AJ Bell Stadium.

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The Chiefs trailed 17-10 early in the second half but turned the game on its head with three tries in a devastating 13-minute spell through Jacques Vermeulen, Stuart Hogg and Luke Cowan-Dickie to secure a second consecutive bonus-point win since the resumption.

“The points are fantastic but the bigger thing for me was just how we grew in the game because we were challenged today,” Baxter said. “They helped us in a scary way because they brought the best out of us.

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“We were on the back foot in the first half and we had to solve some problems and I thought we did that exceptionally well. We started to get momentum and it put us on the front foot.

“The reality is that there are still plenty of games to come. I know for a fact we’re not cemented in the top four yet.”

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond has no doubt that Exeter are now too far in front to catch. “They’re a good side,” Diamond said. “They don’t panic, they get into the right areas and play.” Exeter’s victory avenged a 22-19 defeat at Sandy Park in January and demonstrated the ground that the Sharks, champions 14 years ago, still have to make up if they are to be considered genuine contenders once more.

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It was a first home defeat since the opening round against Gloucester 10 months ago for Sale, who could drop out of the top four if other results go against them this weekend. Diamond demanded a more disciplined effort from his team following a disappointing 16-10 defeat by Harlequins at the Stoop last Friday but their old failings were all too apparent.

They made a dream start with two early tries from Tom Curry and Rob du Preez but they conceded 23 penalties as they fell away badly in the second half and needed a late try from Denny Solomona to add a touch of respectability to the final scoreline.

“I thought we were in the game first half,” Diamond said. “It was crucial not getting anything just before half-time when we lost a lineout five metres out, something that Exeter don’t do. I’m disappointed with our discipline again. The interpretations are difficult getting used to. There were examples tonight of us getting penalised for what was said we were allowed to do.”

Exeter next face a trip to second-placed Bristol on Tuesday while Sale will seek to halt their losing run when they go to Wasps. “Some of them will play on Tuesday,” Diamond said. “Some of them have asked me already if they can play. At this moment in time, I see us out the top four and we’ll have to do something seriously good to get back into it.”

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