Exeter thwart Hodgson's hope of finishing Sale career in style

Sale 24 Exeter 30

If the Premiership newcomers from the deepest West Country hit a wall three weeks or so ago, they found a way of climbing over it on their last long trip of the season.

Exeter may yet return from whence they came, but only if the disciplinarians of the Rugby Football Union turn next week's hearing about a minor misdemeanour on the foreign player front into something resembling a show trial – or still worse, the sporting equivalent of the Bloody Assizes. All things being equal, the Devonians will survive their first campaign in the top tier of the English game with a good deal to spare.

They scored three tries in Stockport yesterday, every one of them a nail in the coffin as far as the sentimentalists of the north-west were concerned. This was Charlie Hodgson's 230th and possibly final game for Sale – he has accumulated more than 2,500 points across 10 and a half years – and as a big proportion of the local public place the outside-half very high in the list of the club's best-ever players, only the hard of heart would have wished this on him.

"Charlie was outstanding, again," said Steve Diamond, who played with Hodgson during his long stint in the middle of the Sale front row, has recently been managing him in his new role as executive director of sport at Edgeley Park, and would far rather he was not pushing off to Saracens. "He was virtually faultless. The players' heads were all over the place before the game: it was almost a celebration of the fact that this was his final home match. I'm not celebrating, that's for sure. The only good thing about it is that while there are nine teams better than us at the moment, eight of them won't be able to pick Charlie against us next season."

Diamond was scathing about his team's performance, reeling off facts and figures – 11 dropped passes before half-time was a memorable statistic – that would put any professional outfit to shame. James Gaskell, the beanpole blind-side flanker with energy and commitment to burn, and Henry Thomas, the skilful young tight-head prop, were absolved from blame, although the latter had a rough time of it at the set-piece. "The thing is, we can't look to the kids to pull us out of trouble all the time," Diamond remarked, not unreasonably. "There are experienced people here who are paid a lot of money, and we need to see more from them. If people play like that at Gloucester in our last game, we could capitulate. And we can't have that, can we?"

Hodgson pulled every trick he ever mastered in an effort to leave town on a high: there were exquisitely-timed passes off either hand, siege-gun punts to touch, a pitch-perfect kicking display from the tee – even a drop-goaled conversion of Will Addison's try at the death, which gave Sale one last shot at pinching the spoils. It was not enough. All sorts of presentations and eulogies were planned immediately the final whistle sounded, but as is his wont, he preferred to sit quietly in a corner and mull over the whys and wherefores of another painful defeat.

Exeter had been hurting themselves before embarking on the M5-M6 journey from hell – Bank Holiday drives on those particular roads are purgatorial, to say the very least – but they started the game as though they were full of the joys of spring. Igncaio Mieres, the Argentine outside-half said to be playing for a contract renewal, had them on the board with a penalty inside eight minutes and when his fellow midfielders, Sireli Naqelevuki and Phil Dollman, milked an overlap to send Nic Sestaret in at the right corner early in the second quarter, he was every bit as accurate in nailing the wide-angled conversion.

Sale were back on terms by the break, Hodgson chipping away at the deficit with a penalty and converting a Chris Bell try that was entirely down to the teenaged Addison's smart off-load out of contact. But Bell was among those at fault when Matt Jess hoovered up some spilled possession and ran 70 metres to restore his side's 10-point advantage, and with the home scrum in all sorts of strife, the chances of a second comeback appeared less than great.

To their credit, Sale worked their back to within three, Wame Lewaravu smashing through Tom Johnson and Chris Whitehead after a long attack orchestrated by Hodgson and featuring both Gaskell and Sisa Koyamaibole, albeit in very different modes. Gaskell has pace, but no poundage; Koyamaibole is particularly well endowed in the avoirdupois department – a useful asset when trying to play a No 8's game off a rotten scrum – but has nothing much in the way of straight-line speed. Until the northerners stabilise their first-phase operation, neither man will find it possible to maximise his talent.

This weakness betrayed Sale again when Exeter set about them with a driving scrum and won themselves a penalty, duly converted by Gareth Steenson, who rarely misses and did not look like doing so during his 20-minute cameo here. And when Will Cliff, on at scrum-half for the vastly more experienced Dwayne Peel, ran into trouble in his own half and allowed his opposite number Junior Poluleuligaga a sniff of the ball going forward, he put his colleagues in terrible difficulties. Sure enough, the visiting captain Tom Hayes appeared on the Fijian's shoulder and ran the best part of 30 metres – a long way for a lock – to wrap up the game.

Watching all this was John Wells, the England forwards coach, and he cannot have been overjoyed at the sight of the Sale loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan, who is first choice at national level, retreating at such alarming speed. To make matters worse, the injury-prone British and Irish Lion is due to have another of his regular shoulder operations over the next few days. The surgery should put him in a good position, physically speaking, for the World Cup in New Zealand this autumn. Where Sheridan will be psychologically is another question entirely.

Sale: Tries Bell, Lewaravu, Addison. Conversions Hodgson 3. Penalty Hodgson. Exeter: Tries Sestaret, Jess, Hayes. Conversions Mieres 2, Steenson. Penalties Mieres 2, Steenson.

Sale: N MacLeod; P Williams (K Tonetti h-t), C Bell, A Tuilagi (R Miller 74), W Addison; C Hodgson (capt), D Peel (W Cliff 63); A Sheridan, N Briggs, H Thomas (E Lewis-Roberts 43), W Lewaravu, S Cox (C Jones 70), J Gaskell, C Fearns (N McMillan 74), S Koyamaibole.

Exeter: L Arscott; N Sestaret, P Dollman, S Naqelevuki (B Rennie 85), M Jess; I Mieres (G Steenson 57), H Thomas (J Poluleuligaga 76); B Sturgess, N Clark (C Whitehead 55), H Tui (C Budgen 55), T Hayes, J Hanks (C Slade 70), T Johnson, J Scaysbrook, R Baxter (J Phillips 85).

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot