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Aviva Premiership: Gareth Steenson boots Exeter to narrow victory over Sale
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Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked six penalties as the Chiefs claimed an 18-16 victory in their Aviva Premiership clash with Sale on Friday night.
The Exeter fly-half did not falter under the lights at the AJ Bell Stadium as he maintained a 100 per cent record to help claim the fifth win of the campaign for the Chiefs despite a late rally from Sale.
A flurry of yellow cards in the first half dented Sale's hopes of bouncing back from their defeat by Harlequins last weekend, but Danny Cipriani's three penalties and Mark Cueto's late converted try was enough for them to claim a losing bonus point in the home defeat.
The game started with Sale penalised for pulling down a maul, and when no advantage was gained, referee Wayne Barnes took play back to allow Steenson his first shot at goal.
The Chiefs stand-off did not miss, but Sale were quickly back on level terms when Exeter prop Brett Sturgess was penalised at the scrum, allowing Cipriani to line up a regulation kick.
Sale's forwards showed their intent again as they drove the Chiefs' unstable-looking scrum to pieces against the head to claim another penalty.
With the mist descending, Exeter's pack looked to be losing their way, as the Sharks' tight five continued to do serious damage.
They set the platform for another Cipriani penalty as referee Barnes spotted an offside infringement, allowing the former Melbourne Rebels star to put Sale 6-3 up.
However, the Sharks were dealt a blow in the 20th minute when tighthead Vadim Cobilas was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements at the ruck after a break from the line-out had seen Exeter threaten Sale's line.
It resulted in Steenson lining up his second penalty as the battle of the kickers continued, with the Exeter fly-half soon regaining the lead for his side with a third strike after a maul was hauled to the floor.
Sale's backline then stretched their legs after wing Tom Arscott ran on to a lucky bounce and scythed through the defensive line in a move that involved Johnny Leota and Sam Tuitupou, but Cueto was unable to get to the centre's chip and the ball went dead.
Cipriani missed a chance to level when Exeter were penalised for not releasing and the Chiefs were given another one-man advantage soon after when Sale hooker Tommy Taylor was sent to the sin-bin after a brief melee.
Steenson booted Exeter 12-6 ahead and they tested Sale again when wing Matt Jess broke the line with an angled run.
The Sharks' continued indiscipline cost them dear as they lost lock Kirill Kulemin to the bin three minutes before the half-time whistle for coming straight over the top of a ruck and taking out scrum-half Dave Lewis.
Steenson maintained his 100 per cent record to put the Chiefs 15-6 up at the break as Exeter finished the half on a high and Sale went in with just 13 men.
The Chiefs looked to make their two-man advantage pay at the start of the second half but Dean Mumm dropped an easy pass and some superb defence from Sale at a five-metre line-out maul killed their chances, with Taylor returning to bolster their forwards.
Cipriani fired a penalty six minutes before the final whistle which Steenson matched at the other end, before the game finished with a flourish as Cueto crossed for a late try in the corner after some good hands.
Cipriani added the conversion, as Sale salvaged a losing bonus point.
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|Sunday 30th November|
|Newcastle Falcons 13 - 18 Sale Sharks|
|London Welsh 14 - 43 Northampton|
|London Irish 9 - 21 Gloucester|
|Saturday 29th November|
|Exeter 27 - 19 Saracens|
|Leicester Tigers 18 - 16 Wasps|
|Friday 28th November|
|Bath 25 - 6 Harlequins|
|Sunday 23rd November|
|London Welsh 5 - 26 Leicester Tigers|
|Saracens 24 - 31 Northampton|
|Saturday 22nd November|
|London Irish 23 - 33 Bath|
|Exeter 31 - 15 Wasps|
|Friday 21st November|
|Newcastle Falcons 20 - 10 Gloucester|
|Harlequins 12 - 16 Sale Sharks|
|Sunday 16th November|
|Wasps 71 - 7 London Welsh|
|Leicester Tigers 21 - 21 Saracens|
|Saturday 15th November|
|Bath 23 - 14 Newcastle Falcons|
|Sale Sharks 36 - 8 London Irish|
|Friday 14th November|
|Gloucester 15 - 22 Harlequins|
|Northampton 18 - 24 Exeter|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com