Sale Sharks hold on to sink Exeter Chiefs and improve their top four prospects
Sale held off a second half Exeter comeback to move closer to the Aviva Premiership's top four following a 23-17 triumph at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Sharks were clinical in the opening period and went into the break with a 17-point buffer, despite being on the back foot for plenty of it, thanks to tries from Johnny Leota, Nev Edwards and Mike Haley.
Exeter hit back after the interval through Jack Yeandle but a Danny Cipriani penalty reasserted the hosts' authority on the scoreboard.
Dave Lewis then touched down to narrow the deficit to six points before Cipriani effectively secured the victory from the tee late on.
Gareth Steenson added a three-pointer in the final minute but the visitors had to be content with a losing bonus point.
Rob Baxter's men have enjoyed a terrific season so far and they went into this encounter comfortably placed in the top four.
The West Country outfit showed many of the qualities which have got them there in the early exchanges - and they should have taken the lead.
Gaps were regularly appearing in the home team's rearguard and that pressure resulted in a yellow card for prop Ross Harrison, who failed to retreat 10 metres after a Will Chudley quick tap.
With their opponents down to 14, Exeter laid siege to the Sharks' line and they had an opportunity to score when Thomas Waldrom went searching for the try from close range - but the number eight was called back for a double-movement.
Ben Moon and Phil Dollman also appeared as though they had broken the shackles but the visitors were unable to convert possession into points. That profligacy was to prove costly.
The Chiefs had James Short sin-binned for taking out Will Addison in the air and, although Cipriani missed a difficult penalty, the following passage of play resulted in the first score of the match.
Mark Easter made the initial incursion before the Sharks' back-rower off-loaded to Dave Seymour. The flanker was hauled down just short but a floated pass by the home side's stand-off landed in the grateful arms of Leota, who touched down.
Sale now had the momentum and the second try was soon forthcoming as excellent work from Cameron Neild allowed Haley to break free. That left the full-back with a simple two-on-one and, despite the final pass looking suspiciously forward, Edwards was allowed to sprint down the left and score.
Having suffered those setbacks, Exeter looked to respond but once again the Manchester outfit's rearguard remained firm.
In contrast, Steve Diamond's men were clinical in attack and managed to cross the whitewash again after Haley reacted quickest to a Cipriani drop-goal which bounced back off the post.
For the first time in the encounter, the Sharks' pivot was successful off the tee and they led 17-0 at the interval.
Baxter needed a response from his charges early in the second half and he received it as a breathless few minutes ended in Yeandle touching down.
Cipriani's penalty gave Sale a brief respite before the Chiefs went on the attack once more.
The visitors consistently pressurised the Sharks defence but Diamond's side only yielded 12 minutes from time when Lewis scampered over.
To the hosts' credit, they kept their composure and managed to see out the game through another effort by their impressive stand-off - despite Steenson gaining Exeter a bonus point in the last minute with a three-pointer.