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Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 13

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By chief-swan
August 29 2009

The Chiefs run Sharks close in the second encounter within a week.

Pre-Seaon Match Report 

by Chief-Swan

Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 13

Friday 28th August

Having angered the Sharks’ with victory at Sandy Park the previous Saturday even the most optimistic of the pocketful of Chiefs’ supporters who braved the seven-hour journey to Stockport must have expected to be on the receiving end of a Sale Sharks backlash, especially against their star studded line up featuring household international names such as Cohen, Cueto, Hodgson and Sheridan as well as star of the future James Gaskell. However, on pre-season evidence this Chiefs side seems to be made of sterner stuff than in previous campaigns with players like Scaysbrook, Tui and Foster adding a real drive to the team and Exeter, to a man, stuck to their task. They worked their set game plan diligently and although victory was, probably, in the grand scheme of things undeserved they certainly had their chances to achieve a famous double over their northern Premiership counterparts.

The first twenty minutes of the game began pretty much the way most expected it to. Exeter struggled to cope with Hodgson’s high hanging re-starts, a potential recurring Achilles’ heel for the Chiefs. Sale looked to crash the ball up the middle through their centre Tuilagi or through their ample-figured number 8 Fijian International Sisaro Koyamaibole who when properly fit will undoubtedly be a great addition to their side and the Premiership. Hodgson looked to give the ball width early to bring their strike runners Cueto and Cohen into the game and with the pace they put on the ball at the beginning of the match a long and difficult evening looked in store for the Chiefs. So although Danny Gray missed a relatively comfortable penalty chance it came as little surprise when Sale scored first after an up and under by the mercurial Josh Matavesi was parried back by a Chiefs’ hand and collected by Sale’s pacey flanker Gaskell. He made good ground before passing to the mammoth Koyamaibole who surprised many with his ballet like nimbleness to step pass Paul Mckenzie on the 22 before swotting aside other would be Chiefs defenders on the way to the try line. Hodgson hit the post with the relatively simple conversion but one got the feeling that worse was still to come for the Chiefs. It did and in some style, after quality work by the Sale backs saw the ball moved swiftly along their line before a bullet pass was taken on a sumptuous angle from England-capped lock Dean Schofield who powered under the posts for a wonderfully well worked try. Then on the half hour mark flanker Gaskell got a deserved try when he took advantage of some relatively poor Chiefs’ defending to go over in the corner, allowing Sale to open up a threatening 17-0 lead which was shortened to fourteen points just before half time thanks to a Danny Gray penalty.

So at 17-3 down at halftime it was hard to be disappointed as it was not an altogether unexpected score line and to their credit during the first half the Chiefs’ had fought (sometimes literally) wilfully, tackled manfully and achieved set-piece dominance particularly in the lineouts where Rob Baxter’s coaching expertise was evident. This was pleasing to see given the troubles in this area the previous week at Sandy Park. Even still the majority of the 2,500 crowd expected Sale to turn the screw and for the gap between Premiership and Championship to become evident. They did not count however on the successful entrance to the fray of Messrs Johnson, Bentley and Steenson for the best second-half of pre-season rugby that I can remember seeing involving Exeter.

The Chiefs’ played the second half with an increased intensity and speed which threw the home side out of their natural rhythm and game plan and they became too reliant on Tuilagi crash balling up the middle – a tactic similar in many ways to the subtle game plan that the Fatialofas’ offered Exeter in the past. Steenson had one of his best games and outshone Charlie Hodgson with an intelligent forty minutes of running rugby with the ball in hand and precision kicking for the corners and for territory. He linked superbly throughout the second half with the hugely impressive Matt Cornwell who now looks more and more like the quality player we hoped to see the previous season. He made the hard yards with direct running, winning countless turnover ball on the floor as well as bringing creative players like Dollman, McKenzie and Foster into the game. The latter benefited directly from the Steenson Cornwell axis when a planned set piece move at a scrum on the half way line which saw Foster cut a superb line before stepping past a number of Sale defenders with ease and gliding over the line for a wonderful 40 metre try. Steeno added the difficult extras and the Chiefs were up and running.

From then it was perhaps to the neutral eye not the most enterprising of rugby games, with tensions reaching near boiling point on a number of occasions one of which directly led to another well-struck Steeno penalty, bringing the game to 17-13. The Chiefs then made a host of substitutions and whereas in the past this would have damaged the fluency of the side and the game plan the new players added further quality and speed to the side. Ruadhri Murphy looked very dynamic with ball in hand and the front row of Murphy, Nelson (who got through the game unscathed) and Tui, who has added a real solidity at scrum time, looks to be a powerful unit. We succeeded in managing to wheel the Sale scrum on their own line with ease. Furthermore Chris Bentley, who replaced the enforcer Tomes, who possibly did not endear himself to the Sharks faithful with a careless stamp, dominated the front of line out whilst ball carrying aggressively and, in general, showing form reminiscent of when he first arrived a few years ago from Orrell. The Chiefs’ dominance in the lineouts was one of the main reasons that Sale seemed to misfire in the second half and although they made a few decent half breaks through Bell and Hodgson the Chiefs’ defended heroically on the try line and snuffed out wave after wave of attack with dogged determination.

The Chiefs’ did have their opportunities to win the game late in the second half but couldn’t quite find the killer pass or clean break through the middle, despite the best efforts of the irrepressible Tom Johnson. However come the final whistle it was the quality of the performance as opposed to the result that was important and a 17-13 score line is probably a fair reflection of the whole game. Exeter produced a fantastic second-half rearguard display inspired in particular by the introduction of Gareth Steenson who kept Sale retreating with a series of intelligent kicks behind their back three. The backrow throughout the game worked well but the trinity of Johnson, Scaysbrook and Baxter looks to be particularly cohesive and could be the starting backrow for the trip to Moseley next week. Josh Matavesi again impressed with a calm and mature display, which belied his tender years and included one outrageous dummy, which fooled the supporters if not the Sale defence. Mckenzie and Foster also shone.

So despite the seven-hour journey Mark Foster’s try alone made it a trip well worth making. Sale Sharks were fantastic hosts and despite the general feel of it being a football club at Stockport their supporters were excellent company, very fair judges of the game complete with friendly and helpful stewards who were a real credit to their club. I wish them all the best for the upcoming season and hope that without getting carried out away that maybe, just maybe, after Friday night’s performance we have taken the tiniest of steps towards meeting them in the Premiership next season.

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Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 14 (IP Logged)
29/08/2009 23:38
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Re: Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 14
30/08/2009 09:38
Great report Chief Swan

Re: Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 14
Big Bob (IP Logged)
30/08/2009 14:03
Thanks Chief Swan - a great read

Re: Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 14
clalan (IP Logged)
30/08/2009 17:25
wish I could have made trip, thanks for the great report Chief Swan

Re: Sale Sharks 17 Exeter Chiefs 14
OggyMan (IP Logged)
01/09/2009 20:42
Many thanks for a really good report.


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