Jacques Vermeulen starred as the Exeter Chiefs recorded a stunning come-from-behind 32-22 bonus-point win over the Sale Sharks in Eccles on Friday.
The Saffa-laden Sale Sharks were much-improved this week in comparison to the feeble attempt they put in last weekend. And yet their best effort in this clash was not enough to sink the high-flying Exeter Chiefs, who overcame an indifferent first half display with a superior second half performance to clinch the win and solidify their place at the top of the log.
Rob du Preez played excellently for the hosts, scoring a stunning solo try and producing a flawless kicking display off the tee. Lood de Jager, Jono Ross and Jean-Luc du Preez were also in decent form.
But it was the performance of Exeter’s Vermeulen that caught the eye. Without being flashy, the flank was influential at the breakdown and relentless in defence. And it was his try early in the second half that sparked his team’s comeback.
In a lively opening 10 minutes, the visitors opened the scoring with a converted try, but Sale struck twice to lead 14-7, with one of their tries coming after Rob du Preez saw off the attention of five defenders on his way to the tryline.
The action didn’t let up as the half progressed beyond those 10 minutes, but the scoring did as they headed toward the midway mark without adding another point. But on the stroke of half-time, the visitors slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to four at the break.
Sale certainly needed a bigger lead for how well they played, because the Chiefs were unfazed and seized control of the match at the start of the second stanza.
After Sale converted an early penalty attempt into three points for a 17-10 lead, the Chiefs went on a scoring spree as they chalked up 22 unanswered points via three tries and a long-range penalty from the halfway mark.
Sale scored late in the game, but it was a mere consolation, as it couldn’t even prevent the Chiefs from leaving with maximum log points. Exeter are now 13 points clear at the top of the table.
Sale – Tries: Tom Curry, Rob du Preez. Conversions: Du Preez (2). Penalty: Du Preez.
Exeter – Tries: Sam Simmonds, Jacques Vermeulen, Stuart Hogg, Luke Cowan-Dickie. Conversions: Joe Simmonds (3). Penalty: Simmonds (2).
Sale – 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (c) 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 Will-Griff John, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 James Phillips, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Denny Solomona.
Exeter – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds (c), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Subs: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom Hendrickson.
Photo: Exeter Chiefs/Twitter