Sale put themselves right in contention for a top-two Gallagher Premiership finish after securing only their second-ever league win at Exeter.

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The Sharks’ defending was the key to their 22-19 victory, which was outstanding as they scored all their points in the first half through tries by wing Chris Ashton, number eight Dan du Preez and wing Byron McGuigan, with fly-half Robert du Preez landing a penalty and conversion.

Exeter had one try from full-back Phil Dollman going to the second period but in the final quarter, number eight Sam Simmonds and wing Tom O’Flaherty scored tries, with fly-half Gareth Steenson converting both.

Sale’s pack led the charge as the Sharks put Exeter under the cosh for the majority of the first quarter. Fly-half Robert du Preez made the Chiefs pay for a ruck offence with a 40-metre penalty before big lock Bryn Evans dived over for a try which was ruled out by the TMO.

Depleted Exeter, missing at least 10 frontline men, looked at sixes and sevens when O’Flaherty was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on. The Chiefs held their line but former England wing Ashton strode past the cover for an unconverted try.

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On the half-hour mark, good work inside the Sale 22 saw Dollman race to the left corner and just beat Ashton’s attentions to grab an unconverted try.

It looked like game on, particularly as Sale centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg was lucky to only see yellow when high tackling Chiefs playmaker Steenson.

But two hammer blows put the 14-man Sharks in a commanding half-time lead. Excellent lineout work on the blind side gave number eight Daniel du Preez a run to the line, past some floundering defence.

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And seconds later, a wild pass on halfway from Chiefs scrum-half Stu Townsend was picked off by McGuigan to run in, with Robert du Preez converting.

At 22-5 behind, it gave the Premiership leaders a mountain to climb in the second half. The match went flat until Exeter found some territory and became encamped on the opposition line.

But remarkable Sharks defence for five minutes, only a metre or so from their line, kept the Chiefs at bay. Lock Jonny Hill and Simmonds both went over but were denied tries. Eventually, Sale’s resistance broke as a close-range scrum wheeled and Simmonds plundered over.

Steenson’s conversion put Exeter 10 points adrift heading into the last 10 minutes. And, in the blink of an eye, Exeter were within three points of a draw when O’Flaherty was put away over halfway.

Despite another Ashton cover tackle and following a long TMO referral to decide if the wing had dropped the ball, the try was given. Steenson converted again and, with five minutes left, there was time for Exeter to win it.

But the battling Sharks put the pressure on the home side, reached their line and ran down the clock for the victory.

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