Chiefs 43 Sharks 6
EXETER CHIEFS 43
SALE SHARKS 6
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter's curse-like hold over Sale Sharks continued as Rob Baxter’s side got off to a dream start in their Aviva Premiership opener at Sandy Park.
With four previous victories over the Sharks in English rugby’s top flight, the Devon club made it win number five by producing a stunning, six-try blast to record a best-ever Premiership victory.
Fly-half Ignacio Mieres, who finished with 13 points in total, set them on their way with the opening try, whilst lock Aly Muldowney also touched down in a hard fought first half.
The second period, however, was a much different story as the Chiefs flexed their muscles to good effect, running in further touchdowns from Matt Jess (2), Tom Johnson and the evergreen Chris Budgen.
All Sale could muster in terms of a response were two penalties from Nick MacLeod.
Having warmed-up for the new campaign with pre-season encounters against Connacht, Cornish Pirates and Glasgow Warriors, Baxter opted for a powerful looking line-up for this seasonal opener against the visiting Sharks.
Summer signings Will Chudley and Ian Whitten were handed their first starts in the back division, whilst up front Tom Hayes skippered a Chiefs pack, buoyed by the return of Welsh international Craig Mitchell at tight-head.
Sale, meanwhile, also had new faces in their ranks with director of rugby Bryan Redpath, fresh from his close season move from Gloucester, handing debuts to Richie Gray, Corne Uys and Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
There was, however, no starting spot for Danny Cipriani following his summer switch from the Melbourne Rebels.
In a tight opening to the contest, both sides look to set their stall out with a series of early raids into enemy territory. However, it was the Chiefs who looked the brighter of the two; the home pack causing no end of problems to the Sharks both in the loose and the set-piece.
The home pressure was mounting and on 12 minutes the deadlock was finally broken when Mieres thundered over a monster penalty from just inside his own half to give the Chiefs a slender lead.
Five minutes later and the Argentine was adding to his tally, claiming Exeter’s first try of the new season. The talented playmaker was able to crash over as he finished off a sparkling move from the home side, instigated initially by good approach work involving Josh Tatupu and James Scaysbrook.
Although Mieres failed to land the conversion, his attempt cannoned back off the far post, he made no mistake moments later when he slotted a second penalty after the Sharks were pulled up for straying offside in midfield.
Sale needed a response of some sorts and they got it just before the half-hour mark when Mitchell was adjudged to have slipped his bind at a scrum just outside the Exeter 22. It offer MacLeod his first shot at the target and the Sale marksman made no mistake, drilling his effort between the sticks to make it 11-3.
It was a momentary blip for the Chiefs, who twice went close to adding a second try before the break. First, hooker Chris Whitehead spilled the ball on the line following a clever inside pass from Chudley; then Jess had an effort in the left corner chalked off for a forward pass from Whitten.
The last action of the half, though, belonged to Mieres as he dispatched a third penalty after Sale buckled once more at a scrum deep inside their own 22.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 14 SALE SHARKS 3
The wait for a second Exeter try was not long in coming once the play resumed. Baxter’s side were quickly into their stride as the rampaging home forwards bullied their way into the Sale half with a series of pick-and-go raids.
The tactic was certainly an effective one as following four drives, the ball was fed out to the onrushing Muldowney who bulldozed his way over by the posts for the score, which Mieres duly converted to extend the home side’s lead to 18 points.
Exeter were certainly cruising in all facets of play, but they were given a timely reminder of the Sale threat when MacLeod landed a second penalty when the home side were pinged for straying offside in front of their own posts.
The threat proved minimal as within minutes the Chiefs were racing over for a third try of the game. Having worked the ball down the right flank to good effect, Baxter’s men then switched the angle of attack back the other way where the ball was fed to the impressive Shoemark, who in turn released Jess to glide over unopposed.
Mieres was unable to land the extras to that score or Exeter’s fourth which came on the hour mark when England international Johnson secured the bonus point, rounding off another excellent move involving the lively Tatupu.
If that was not enough for the home faithful, the ‘Heamoor Flyer’ was at it again with 13 minutes remaining as he applied another slick finish following a rapid burst through the middle from Phil Dollman. Gareth Steenson nudged over the conversion to put the seal on a polished display.
Afterwards Baxter admitted he and his team would not get carried away by this opening day success, but based on this display the signs are promising for a big year ahead.
Chiefs: P Dollman; J Tatupu, I Whitten, J Shoemark (L Arscott 58), M Jess; I Mieres (G Steenson 62), W Chudley (K Barrett 59); B Sturgess (B Moon 58), C Whitehead (S Alcott 62), C Mitchell (C Budgen 62); T Hayes (capt), A Muldowney (J Hanks 53); T Johnson (J Phillips 64), J Scaysbrook (A Muldowney 77), R Baxter.
Tries – Mieres, Muldowney, Jess (2), Johnson, Budgen; Conversions – Mieres, Steenson; Penalties – Mieres (2)
Sharks: R Miller; W Addison (J Davies 80), J Leota, S Tuitupou (D Cipriani 31), C Uys; N MacLeod, D Peel (C Willis 51); E Lewis-Roberts (R Harrison 62), J Ward (M Jones 51), V Cobillas (T Buckley 53); R Gray (R Vernon 69), F McKenzie (K Myall 49); J Gaskell, D Seymour (capt), A Powell.
Penalties – MacLeod (2)
Referee: A Small
Touch Judges: G MacDonald & A Pearce
4th Official: A Rowden
UP NEXT FOR THE CHIEFS: v Northampton Saints (A), Aviva Premiership, Sunday, September 9 (3pm)