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'The first half was probably the best stuff we've played all season'

By PA
Stuart Hogg with the offload /PA

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Ali Hepher hailed Exeter’s first-half performance as probably their best of the season after they beat Gallagher Premiership rivals Sale Sharks 19-12 at Sandy Park.

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The Chiefs built a 19-0 lead by the interval through two Jacques Vermeulen tries on his comeback from a serious hamstring injury, and an Olly Woodburn touchdown, while Joe Simmonds kicked two conversions.

They did not score after the 38th minute and missed out on a losing bonus point, but the damage had been done as they leap-frogged Gloucester and London Irish to move fourth.

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Le French Rugby Podcast – Episode 19
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It was Exeter’s fourth successive Premiership victory since losing at home Wasps in late January, and head coach Hepher said: “It was a good Premiership win against a very good side.

“It would have been nice to get the bonus point and probably deny them a (losing) bonus point as well, but to get a win was the most important thing.

“The first half was probably the best stuff we’ve played all season. To hit the ground running in that manner was outstanding. Our energy, our carrying through into holes was all there.

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Jacques Vermeulen rumbles over from close range /PA
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“It was slightly disappointing that at times we kicked too early and kicked too much in the second half, when I would have liked us to have been a bit more direct like we were in the first half, but they are good problems to have on the back of a win.

“Since the turn of the year, we’ve reset ourselves a bit.

“We dropped the Irish and Wasps games, but we showed good signs against Wasps and we have got a few wins since then. We are scoring tries again, which is a real positive, and we have some good players to return.”

Sale’s cause was not helped by a number of injuries, with flanker Cameron Neild being carried off early in the second period, while Cobus Wiese, Raffi Quirke and Coenie Oosthuizen also made premature exits.

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But they kept plugging away and were rewarded with tries from Ewan Ashman and Curtis Langdon, plus one AJ MacGinty conversion, as a losing bonus point proved just reward for their second-half efforts.

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Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson said: “Considering how we pitched up today, I would have taken a bonus point at half-time.

“But you can’t be satisfied with coming away with losing bonus points, or the draw we had last week (against London Irish). We have to be better, and today was a step back in the first half, certainly.

“We had a few changes in the pack and early injuries and a pack with two hookers, and we still looked the better for it. It was pure mentality.

“We said we would measure ourselves by the second half, and we were much more in the fight.

“We will take it, but I’m not happy with it.”

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