Premiership: Exeter Chiefs 19-22 Sale Sharks - leaders beaten at Sandy Park
|Exeter Chiefs (5) 19|
|Tries: Dollman, Simmonds, O'Flaherty Cons: Steenson 2|
|Sale Sharks (22) 22|
|Tries: Ashton, D du Preez, McGuigan Cons: R du Preez 2 Pen: R du Preez|
Sale Sharks climbed to third in the Premiership after surviving a late fightback to beat leaders Exeter.
Rob du Preez's penalty and Chris Ashton's try were scant reward for a dominant opening, and Phil Dollman's reply got Chiefs on the board.
The Sharks took control before the break through Dan du Preez's score and Byron McGuigan's interception try.
Sam Simmonds and Tom O'Flaherty crossed in the final quarter to set up a tense finale, but Sale held on.
Chiefs went into the match buoyed by a surprise defeat for second-placed Northampton at London Irish on Friday, and looking for a third win over Sale in 48 days following back-to-back Champions Cup victories against them.
But, having made eight changes, including losing Joe Simmonds to a three-week ban, Exeter were pinned back by Sale who were rewarded for a strong start when former England winger Ashton forced his way over after Bryn Evans had stolen a misfiring Chiefs line-out and sent Daniel du Preez away.
Sharks were denied further tries by desperate defence and the TMO, and when Dollman carried two men with him across the line to touch down, the hosts seemed to have found a foothold.
Sale then lost Rohan Janse van Rensburg to the sin-bin for a high tackle, but took control against the off-rhythm Chiefs, with Daniel du Preez crossing after a neat blindside move, before former Chief McGuigan picked off Stuart Townsend's wayward offload to run under the posts.
Exeter finally found their groove in the final quarter of the game and pounded away at the Sale line, forcing penalty after penalty, until Simmonds finally cracked a dogged rearguard.
Dollman's break and offload sent O'Flaherty away to score with five minutes left, and Gareth Steenson's second conversion threatened a dramatic turnaround win.
But Sale regained their composure to end a run of six successive away defeats with their first win at Sandy Park since 2014, leaving Chiefs to settle for a losing bonus point which took them a point clear at the top.
Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Radio Devon:
"I'm kind of OK with the result because I think we got what we deserved and sometimes you have to take it on the chin.
"We were loose on the ball when we had it, we didn't keep hold of the ball for very long at all and we didn't really defend with any vigour - their ball carrier got on the front foot so easily.
"But whatever anyone wants to say, we have qualified for a Champions Cup quarter-final, and we are top of the Premiership.
"Sometimes you just need to stop and get the batteries plugged back in and I've said to the lads, make sure you're emotionally recharged and physically recharged and you're ready to kick off again."
Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond told BBC Radio 5 Live:
"We got there in the end. The league is very tough and a win's a win.
"Getting an away win is difficult and those that win the competition only normally do it about five times a season. That's our second, and it's come against a top side.
"We'll analyse it. Could we have done a bit better? Possibly, but there was a lot of endeavour and skill to score three tries at the start and loads of spirit in the team."
Exeter: Dollman; O'Flaherty, Whitten, Hill, Woodburn; Steenson, Townsend; Moon, Taione, Pieretto, Dennis (capt), Hill, Ewers, Vermeulen, Simmonds.
Replacements: Poole, Hepburn, Street, Skinner, Kvesic, Maunder, Skinner, Hendrickson.
Sin-bin: O'Flaherty (14)
Sale: Hammersley; Ashton, S James, van Rensberg, McGuigan; R du Preez, Cliff; Harrison, Webber, Cooper-Woolley, Evans, J-L du Preez, Ross (capt), B Curry, D du Preez.
Replacements: Langdon, Oosthuizen, John, Phillips, Postlethwaite, Warr, L James, Yarde.
Sin-bin: Van Rensburg (34)
Referee: JP Doyle