Getting the basics right was the key to Sale Sharks’ 18-11 victory against Exeter Chiefs at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford on Friday.
That was the word from Sale’s director of rugby Steve Diamond, who saw his side, who are fourth on the Premiership table, produce a patient and probing performance which allowed them to narrow the gap on the third-placed Chiefs in the standings.
A swirling wind and heavy rain provided challenging conditions and resulted in a stunted first half but despite their dominance, the home side could only muster a three-point advantage at the break.
However, second-half tries from Mark Cueto and Danny Cipriani put Sale in the driving seat as Exeter struggled to get a foothold in the match.
And Diamond believes it was his side’s commitment to perfecting their fundamentals on the day that was the difference.
“I think the first-half performance was to some people a little bit frustrating but it was a hell of a gale out there and the rain and sleet was coming down,” he said.
“We managed to go in three up and in the second half we managed to keep them down there and contain them.
“We made them tackle very hard and we said at half time that they would be knackered because they had the ball 20 per cent of the time and were defending 80 per cent of the time.
“We said before the game that we had about 280 caps playing and we have got three or four young lads coming through the academy who stepped up.
“We haven’t got the most skilful players but we work hard at the things that don’t take a lot of talent and skill.
“When we get that right and you keep the ball in the right part of the field you win the game.”
Gareth Steenson’s first-half penalty had kept Exeter within three points at the break and, while they struggled to impose themselves on the match, they remained in touch throughout.
Cipriani’s try proved decisive for Rob Baxter’s troops but they never stopped fighting as Thomas Waldrom dotted down for another try this season with ten minutes remaining.
However, they couldn’t turn any of their momentum in the final stages into points and Baxter admitted the best team won on the night.
“I thought Sale deserved the win because they got the important bits of the game right,” said Baxter.
“Fair play to them, we knew before the game what would be important, the set-piece battle, territory and discipline and they came out on top in all of those areas.
“I have no complaints about the result and, if anything, we’ll look back at that as an important losing bonus point as there was a while in that game that even that looked beyond us.
“I’ve just said to the guys well done for sticking in there and getting something out of the game as that is important when you go away in the Aviva Premiership but we’ve got to take it on the chin that we were beaten in areas that we had to be on top of if we were going to win.”