Premiership: Exeter Chiefs 34-19 Sale Sharks
|Exeter (17) 34|
|Tries: White, Turner, Yeandle, Holmes Cons: Simmonds 3, Steenson Pens: Simmonds, Steenson|
|Sale (14) 19|
|Tries: McGuigan 2, Ostrikov Cons: McGinty 2|
Exeter ensured they would end the season top of the Premiership for the first time in their history as they ended Sale's faint play-off hopes.
Byron McGuigan gave Sale an early lead before Nic White and Lachie Turner's tries put Exeter in front.
Andrei Ostrikov's first league try cut the gap to three points at the break.
Exeter's Jack Yeandle went over soon after the restart and McGuigan got a second try before Greg Holmes went over from close range to seal a bonus point.
The victory means Exeter have an unassailable lead at the top of the Premiership and means they are likely to face either Wasps or Newcastle in the semi-finals after Gloucester's loss at home to Bath left their play-off hopes hanging by a thread.
Sale needed to win to have any chance of making the top four but they still have hopes of a Champions Cup place.
Joe Simmonds' early penalty put Exeter in front, but they had to work hard for the win when McGuigan went over.
Exeter had a try disallowed when Sam Hill was held up after a video replay, but Australians White and Turner went over in quick succession before Ostrikov made it close at half time.
Yeandle's try on the right came after a well-worked move from a lineout, while Faf de Klerk had a try for Sale disallowed after failing to control the ball as he grounded it before McGuigan made no mistake with a pinpoint score in the left corner.
Chiefs' replacement scrum-half Stuart Townsend had a try chalked off for a knock-on in the build up before Holmes got the fourth late on.
Exeter forwards coach Rob Hunter told BBC Radio Devon:
"Sale are one of my least favourite sides to play against because you know they're always going to be physical and will always really challenge you. Even when you're well on top they still come back.
"They can get under your skin and I think in the first half that's what happened. We got a little bit bogged down in penalties and stoppages, but second half we settled down, weathered some pressure and ultimately got the points.
"Having the semi-final in the bag already, there is a slight switch of focus and it's hard to say whether that affects you or not. But it seemed like if we needed to stretch away we would do, and that was what ultimately happened."
On clinching first place in the Premiership:
"You don't get anything for it, but it's a nice thing to have as we've worked hard for it and over the course of the season the table doesn't lie.
"Ultimately you can enjoy it for about 24 hours, but then we've got to perform against Quins, and then of course if you lose in the play-off semi here it counts for nothing."
Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond:
"We were beaten by a better side but the final score doesn't reflect the game as we deserved a bonus point, but it wasn't to be.
"In the first half, their set-piece was in control and we made some crucial errors but overall it was a good performance.
"After that I'm really confident of winning our crucial game against Leicester, and Gloucester taking a good hiding today helped.
"We are a good team at the beginning of a journey as we are unrecognisable as the team that kicked off at the start of the season, and we will be even stronger next season."
Exeter: Turner; Nowell, Slade, Hill, Cordero; Simmonds, White; Hepburn, Yeandle (capt), Francis, Lees, Skinner, Ewers, Armand, Simmonds.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Moon, Holmes, Dennis, Waldrom, Townsend, Steenson, O'Flaherty.
Sale: Addison; McGuigan, S James, L James, Yarde; MacGinty, De Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John, Evans, Ostrikov, T Curry, B Curry, Ross (capt).
Replacements: Jones, Tarus, Aulika, Beaumont, Strauss, Cliff, Leota, Odogwu.