Sale fight back to defeat Exeter
February 8, 2013
Sale fight back for valuable Premiership victory
Try scorers in England's top division from start of leagues in 1987 (at February 8, 2013):
Mark Cueto broke former team-mate Steve Hanley's Aviva Premiership try-scoring record as Sale Sharks staged a superb comeback to defeat Exeter Chiefs 21-16 at the Salford City Stadium.
Sale are scrapping for their Premiership survival and were outplayed in the opening period as Exeter dominated. A try from Watisoni Votu and eight points from the boot of Gareth Steenson eased them into a 13-5 half-time lead.
Dan Braid gave the Sharks hope when he went over, but Steenson extended the advantage early in the second half. However, the home team fought back after that and Cueto touched down for his 76th domestic score before Rob Miller kicked a penalty.
And the Manchester outfit gained a vital victory through Danny Cipriani's three-pointer and Nick Macleod's drop-goal.
Despite enduring a disastrous season, the hosts came into the game following back-to-back wins in the LV= Cup to give them a home semi-final against Saracens. It was a much-needed confidence boost for the club, but it was the visitors who started the brighter.
Rob Baxter's men have themselves found it difficult in recent weeks having failed to win in their previous three Premiership games. However, they were far more inventive and coherent early on and the Chiefs should have opened the scoring when the ball was shifted wide to Jack Nowell but, with the line at his mercy, the winger knocked on.
Exeter did eventually take the lead when an infringement led to Steenson kicking them ahead.
The Sharks were the next to threaten after being awarded a penalty from the restart. Instead of going for the posts, they went for the corner which proved to be the correct decision when Braid touched down from a driving maul.
Despite that setback, the away side continued to control proceedings. Steenson and Will Chudley dictated operations from half-back superbly and their fly-half deservedly put the Chiefs back in front with a second three-pointer.
Sale's director of rugby Steve Diamond targeted this encounter as a must-win match, but his charges were slack in comparison to Exeter's typically energetic display. It was therefore no surprise to see the visitors extend the lead when a period of pressure ended in a try.
Sireli Naqelevuki made a rumbustious charge through the middle before the ball was spread wide to Jason Shoemark. The Kiwi made further inroads and the gargantuan Votu capped off a fine first half performance by touching down. Steenson added the extras to extend the visitors advantage to 13-5 at the break.
The second period initially continued in the same vein with Exeter looking the livelier and their fly-half duly kicked them further into the lead, but to their credit Sale stormed back. An excellent move which involved forwards and backs alike ended in Cueto going over for his record-breaking score, Rob Miller converting.
The ESPN panel analyse the Sharks' victory over the Chiefs
Miller then reduced the arrears to one point with 20 minutes remaining and when Kai Horstmann was sin-binned for persistent team infringements, Cipriani took the Sharks into the lead. Macleod then added a drop goal and they held on despite Nowell having a try ruled out late on.
Sale Sharks' director of rugby Steve Diamond praised his team's resilience, commenting: "We're in the position through our own fault really. We've got a bit of momentum, we won those two games in the LV to give us some confidence and at half-time we got our house in order. The lads showed true spirit again, but it was always going to be a really tense game. There's a lot of hard work to do, but we can't bother about other results.
Referring to Cueto's record-breaking score, Diamond joked: "It's fantastic but it took him long enough to get it, although it finally shuts Steve Hanley up, so in reality it was a great night. The ironic thing is that we said all week that there was a good chance with the way James Gaskell was playing he would get man of the match, which he did, and Quates (Cueto) would score the try."
Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter admitted that the failure to take their chances eventually cost them the game. "I'm a big believer that in most games of rugby you get what you deserve and I think in the end we probably got what we deserved," he said.
"From our perspective the game should have been dead and buried at half-time. You get that many try-scoring opportunities and yet you blow that many, sooner or later it's going to come back and haunt you. The fact that we got to 16-5 in the second half I was thinking that we were going to ride through this one but we didn't."
Sale Sharks maintained their strong run of form with a close-fought win over Exeter Chiefs © Getty Images
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