Exeter 40-30 Sale: Five-try Chiefs reach sixth straight Premiership final to face comeback kings Harlequins after a gruelling encounter at Sandy Park as England wing Jack Nowell scored twice
- Exeter ground their way to the Premiership final against Sale Sharks
- It was not vintage Chiefs – but the hosts still managed to score five tries
- The Devon outfit now have the chance to defend their title against Harlequins
- A late Sale rally was not enough as their chances of a first title since 2006 ended
If winning is a habit, then this group of Exeter Chiefs have an addiction.
Rob Baxter’s men have had taste after taste of victory after scaling the heights in Europe and on home soil, but their hunger looks far from satisfied after they ground their way into a sixth successive Premiership final.
The thing that will put the fear into Twickenham opponents Harlequins is that they barely got out of third gear as scores from Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom O’Flaherty, Alex Cuthbert, and a brace from Jack Nowell put them on course to defend their title.
Alex Cuthbert’s 67th-minute helped put Exeter just out of reach of Sale Sharks in Devon
The Chiefs now have the opportunity to defend their Premiership crown against Harlequins
Sale fought until the last, but not even a double from Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Dan du Preez’s late try could see them recreate Quins’ earlier heroics.
‘Those Harlequins players had a great second-half, it was a fantastic game of rugby,’ said Baxter.
‘My biggest concern is that we conceded 30 points, and that makes you think about what we will have to defend against next week. Hopefully, we can keep the ball and nullify their threat.’
The second semi-final of the day had a lot to live up to after Harlequins mounted the greatest fightback in Premiership history.
After watching the Bears collapse on the big screens of Sandy Park, the reigning kings of England launched an assault to establish early dominance, and they were given a helping hand by Sale’s key man.
Manu Tuilagi shot out of the line and caught Richard Capstick with a wild forearm as he attempted a tackle to earn a yellow card.
Baxter stated a case for a red on the touchline, but his frustration turned to celebration when Cowan-Dickie took the penalty quickly and burrowed over to score.
Exeter’s early blitz gathered momentum when Van Rensburg was forced into a knock on that was scooped up by Slade and handed off to O’Flaherty to race over.
The Sharks finally came alive after Joe Simmonds extended the lead with a penalty. Winger Arron Reed rose high into the grey skies to collect the kick and offload to Ben Curry, who fed Van Rensburg for a dive in at the corner to atone for his earlier error.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored two tries for Sale – but the hosts just proved too strong
But Nowell caught Sale napping again with another score from a quick tap penalty to take the champions 22-13 clear at half-time.
Simmonds pressed the advantage with a penalty after the restart, but Sale were handed a lifeline when Tom Foley missed a blatant forward pass from Tuilagi before Rob du Preez slipped a cute kick through for Van Rensburg to score his second.
Justice was done moments later when Simmonds dinked a kick into the in-goal area that was pounced on by Nowell after Simon Hammersley and Cuthbert clashed in the fight for possession.
Simmonds was on target again with the conversion to make it 32-20 before the boot of Du Preez narrowed the gap with a penalty.
Cuthbert put the game to bed after going over from close range before Dan du Preez made things interesting, but Simmonds sealed victory with a late penalty.
‘The game was lost in the first 20 minutes,’ said Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson. ‘When the hangover subsides on Tuesday and we step back, we’ll be very happy with how far we’ve come.’