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Exeter miss out

Published 16/05/2015

Exeter fell just short of the play-offs
Exeter fell just short of the play-offs

A record crowd at Sandy Park saw Exeter Chiefs finish their Aviva Premiership campaign by running in seven tries in their 44-16 victory over Sale but still miss out on the play-offs.

Instead it will be Saracens - big winners against London Welsh - who go into next Saturday's semi-final at leaders Northampton, leaving Exeter to compete in next season's European Champions Cup. Defeat for Sale means they will play in Europe's second-tier competition.

Exeter, watched by 12,642 spectators, went into the break leading 15-11 after tries from Ian Whitten and Jack Nowell plus a Gareth Steenson conversion and penalty, with the Sharks replying through a Josh Beaumont touchdown and two Danny Cipriani penalties.

Steenson's conversion of Ben White's try early in the second half stretched the Chiefs' lead but Beaumont replied with his second try before wing Matt Jess crossed twice for Exeter in a three-minute burst.

The second was converted by Steenson but he was unable to add the extras to the Chiefs' sixth try from outside centre Henry Slade, and with the Sharks down to 13 men, replacement Byron McGuigan crossed in the corner

England international Nowell returned at full-back for Exeter while Don Armand came in at blindside flanker, and it was the final home game for Chiefs skipper Dean Mumm who is returning to his native Australia in the summer to play for the Waratahs.

The Sharks named an unchanged starting line-up after the 34-28 win at home to Newcastle Falcons last time out, with Scotland lock Nathan Hines and England wing Mark Cueto making their final appearances before retiring.

Exeter made the perfect start, putting the visitors under pressure at a scrum and conceding a penalty 22 metres out and in front of the posts. Fly-half Steenson stepped up to slot the ball between the uprights after just two minutes.

Exeter maintained the pressure, wearing down the Sharks defence, and their patience paid off, working the ball across the field until Nowell gave a long pass out for wing Whitten to touch down in the corner.

The Sharks found it hard to break down the Chiefs defence but fly-half Cipriani landed two simple penalties to reduce the arrears before taking the lead when number eight Beaumont squeezed in at the corner, avoiding a Nowell tackle.

The Chiefs came back into the game straight away and Nowell crossed for their second try which Steenson converted from out wide to restore the advantage with three minutes to go to the break.

Both sides took their time to settle into the second half but it was the Chiefs who were the first to trouble the scoreboard as scrum-half Will Chudley gave the scoring pass to flanker White who powered over the line and Steenson added the extras.

The visitors wasted no time in responding as prop Vadim Cobilas gave a long pass out to Beaumont to cross out wide for his second try, to reduce the arrears to 22-16 with 30 minutes still to play.

Mumm made a break before offloading to Chudley who was tackled high by centre Johnny Leota. Referee Wayne Barnes sent Leota to the sin bin after reviewing the incident with TMO Geoff Warren.

Chudley had to leave the field and Steenson was off target with the 15-metre penalty from almost in front of the posts. But the Chiefs took advantage of the extra man as Nowell gave a long pass out to wing Jess for the bonus-point try.

Jess showed his pace to race 60 metres and cross for his second try and Steenson converted from the touchline with the game into the final quarter. But the fly-half could not do likewise when Slade crossed the whitewash.

Cueto received a standing ovation after he was yellow-carded nine minutes from time for a deliberate knock-on in the last of his 303 games in 14 seasons for the Sharks, a career which also saw him gain 55 caps for England.

Sale finished the game with 13 men as replacement prop Ross Harrison was shown a red card by referee Barnes and Alex Brown a yellow after some fists flew. Exeter spread themselves wide and replacement wing McGuigan crossed for the final try.

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