Exeter emphasised their Gallagher Premiership title credentials with a crushing 32-22 win over third-placed Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Chiefs trailed 14-10 at half-time but turned on the style after the break with three tries in a devastating 13-minute spell to secure a second consecutive bonus-point win since the resumption.
The four-try victory avenged a 22-19 defeat at Sandy Park in January and demonstrated the ground that Sale, champions 14 years ago, still have to make up if they are to be considered genuine contenders once more.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) August 21, 2020
They are now 14 points behind the table-toppers and could drop out of the top four if other results go against them this weekend.
Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond demanded a more disciplined effort from his team following a disappointing 16-10 defeat by Harlequins at the Stoop last Friday but their old failings were all too apparent.
They made a dream start with two early tries but were on the wrong end of a 23-12 penalty count as they fell away badly in the second half and needed a late try to add a touch of respectability to the final scoreline.
The game exploded into life from the start, with three tries in the first 10 minutes setting the mark for a fast-paced encounter.
England centre Henry Slade, the architect of most of the Chiefs’ attacking moves, set the ball rolling by getting winger Olly Woodburn into space with a perfect inside pass and number eight Sam Simmonds got on the end of the move to touch down.
Sale’s response was quick and decisive as a strong carry from England centre Manu Tuilagi took him to within a couple of feet of the line and set up the position for scrum-half Faf De Klerk to get England flanker Tom Curry crashing over for an equalising score.
Three minutes later fly-half Rob Du Preez made the most of some strangely soft defence to glide through for a second try and his second conversion put the home side into a 14-7 lead.
The game settled down after the lively opening and Joe Simmonds cut the deficit to four points just before half-time with a penalty, one of 21 awarded in the first half alone by referee Tom Foley.
Du Preez restored the Sharks’ seven-point advantage with a 40-metre penalty three minutes into the second half but the visitors took control with two tries in seven minutes that illustrated both the Chiefs’ power and poise.
Flanker Jacques Vermeulen picked up at the base of a ruck close to the line to score unmarked while Slade once more demonstrated slick handling to get Joe Simmonds into space and Woodburn linked to get full-back Stuart Hogg over for a classy try.
Joe Simmonds was off target for the first time with his third conversion attempt but made amends with a penalty from halfway which stretched his side’s lead to 25-17.
Sale had barely recovered from the double salvo when their defence cracked again, allowing England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie to be driven over from a tap penalty, and Joe Simmonds kicked his fifth goal.
That made it 32-17 but at least Sale had the final say when Marland Yarde found the space to get replacement winger Denny Solomona over for a consolation try.