Sale 22-32 Exeter: Chiefs ruin Manu Tuilagi’s home debut as they come from behind to secure impressive victory over Sharks
- Manu Tuilagi’s impressive home debut was not enough for Sale in Exeter defeat
- The England centre wrought havoc in midfield as Sale charged into an early lead
- Rob Baxter’s side turned the tide in the second half as visitors won 22-32
Manu Tuilagi’s impressive home debut for Sale was wrecked by Exeter on Friday as the Premiership title favourites produced a stunning comeback victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.
England centre Tuilagi had endured a disappointing first appearance for the Sharks seven days earlier, after his summer switch from Leicester, as his new club slid to defeat at Harlequins.
But the 29-year-old, operating in the No 12 shirt, wrought havoc in midfield as Sale claimed two tries in the first 10 minutes, before Rob Baxter’s league leaders turned the tide in the second half.
Manu Tuilagi’s impressive home debut for Sale was wrecked by Exeter’s stunning comeback
The centre wrought havoc in midfield as Sale claimed two tries in the first 10 minutes
On this evidence, Exeter are firmly on course for the Premiership Final at Twickenham on October 24 and will take some stopping. Luke Cowan-Dickie was a try scorer for the second successive weekend and Joe Simmonds was a slick, shrewd conductor in attack.
Tuilagi was a rampaging asset for Sale, England flanker Tom Curry was a nuisance at the breakdown as always and Faf de Klerk pulled the strings to telling effect before half-time. But two losses in their first two fixtures since the season resumption will leave Steve Diamond’s side looking over their shoulders at the cluster of rivals jostling for play-off places.
It took just 95 seconds for Exeter to deliver a resounding statement of attacking intent as the Chiefs went ahead in fine style. Alex Cuthbert’s burst down the right threatened to stretch the Sale defence but he was emphatically knocked back by Marland Yarde.
The danger hadn’t passed though and when the visitors shifted their raid back into midfield, Henry Slade’s slick inside pass sent Olly Woodburn hurtling into space. The wing stormed deep into the Sale half before releasing the supporting Sam Simmonds, who went clear to score unopposed, for a try converted by his brother, Joe, to put Exeter 7-0 up.
Sam Simmonds went over to score Exeter’s first try of the match as his brother, Joe, converted
For the Sharks, it had been an alarming, all-too-simple breach of their defence, but Diamond’s side responded swiftly. In the seventh minute, they were level, thanks to a compelling demonstration of raw, ball-carrying power.
From a penalty on the right, the home team kicked to the corner and from the ensuing lineout the ball was shipped infield to Tuilagi who blasted through a series of tacklers and through the Chiefs’ 22.
When he was eventually subdued, Jono Ross charged on before De Klerk’s flat pass sent Tom Curry over the line from close range.
The conversion was dispatched by Rob du Preez to launch a personal purple patch. Three minutes later, Sale’s South African fly-half gave his side the lead with a try which had many of the hallmarks of their first.
It was another penalty which yielded another attacking lineout in the Exeter 22. This time, after a driving maul created momentum the backs took over. De Klerk picked out Tuilagi and his pass reached Du Preez, who somehow fended off the defenders to touch down. He slotted the extra two points to make it 14-7.
Just before the break Joe Simmonds kicked a penalty to narrow the gap to four points.
Luke Cowan-Dickie burrowed under the Sale forwards to claim Exeter’s bonus-point try
Four minutes after the interval, a penalty by du Preez extended Sale’s advantage but back came Exeter to leave the contest on a knife-edge. In the 48th minute, a strong attack by the visitors yielded a penalty in the hosts’ 22 and from a quick tap Jacques Vermeulen went over. Joe Simmonds’ conversion levelled the scores.
The balance of power continued to shift. In the 54th minute the Chiefs pack produced another powerful drive allowing Joe Simmonds and Olly Woodburn to combine and unleash Stuart Hogg, who put his side five points in front. Soon after, playmaker Simmonds was on target with a 50-metre penalty.
Their second-half revival was capped on the hour when, from another attacking penalty, England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie burrowed under the Sale forwards to claim Exeter’s bonus-point try. Joe Simmonds’ wide conversion made it 17-32.
Denny Solomona’s late try for Sale was a hollow consolation.