Stuart Hogg scored his first try for Exeter before going off with a head injury as the Chiefs maintained their 100 per cent Heineken Champions Cup record with a nail-biting 22-20 win at Sale.
The Sharks staged a tremendous rally after trailing 22-8 after 25 minutes and scored the only try of the second half but in the end ran out of time and a second defeat in three matches left their qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
Despite scoring three tries before half-time, the Chiefs failed for the first time to secure a bonus point but, after beating all three opponents in Pool Two, they have a stranglehold on the group at the halfway stage.
Hooker Akker Van Der Merwe scored two first-half tries for the Sharks to keep them in the game but they are now below Glasgow in the group and need to beat Exeter in the return fixture at Sandy Park next Sunday to keep alive their hopes of only a second appearance in the knockout stages.
Sale, who were without lock Jean-Luc Du Preez through suspension and had England flanker Tom Curry sin-binned for a professional foul, drew first blood courtesy of a penalty from fly-half Rob Du Preez.
However, the first quarter was dominated by Scotland full-back Hogg, who made the break that led to the opening try before scoring himself.
Hogg was initially denied by a terrific last-ditch tackle by winger Chris Ashton although his good work was undone by Curry, who in the next play tackled scrum-half Nic White from an offside position and was given a yellow card.
Hogg was hurt in the act of scoring and failed his head injury assessment, leaving Olly Woodburn to play the rest of the match in his absence, and Joe Simmonds added a penalty to his earlier conversion to stretch the visitors’ lead to 15-3.
Sale pulled a try back midway through the first half when second rower Bryn Evans charged down White’s attempted clearance kick and the ball fell kindly for Van Der Merwe to score the first of his two tries.
Du Preez was wide with the conversion attempt and the Sharks fell further behind in the 25th minute when England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie forced his way over from close range for Exeter’s third try, to which Simmonds added his third goal.
Van Der Merwe grabbed his second try, courtesy of a driving maul, five minutes later and Sale winger Marland Yarde, chosen ahead of Denny Solomona, ought to have added another after Faf De Klerk and Van Der Merwe had kept the ball alive only to drop it over the line.
Yarde, hoping to impress watching England head coach Eddie Jones, made way at half-time for Solomona after becoming the latest player to fail a head injury assessment.
Sale dominated for long periods of the second half, with returning centre James taking them close with a clean break, and they took advantage of the sin-binning of Exeter’s substitute prop Ben Moon for persistent team infringing after 68 minutes.
After having a try disallowed at a driving maul, skipper Jono Ross finally applied the finishing touches to a sustained spell of pressure by crashing over for Sale’s third try six minutes from the end.
Du Preez kicked his second goal but the visitors did enough to hang on for a seventh successive victory over the home side.
The match in images:
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