By Ben Nurse
After finishing 2022 in the Premier 15s top five places, Sale Sharks Women started 2023 with a tough fixture against Exeter Chiefs.
Fellow top five contenders, Exeter travelled to the CorpAcq Stadium with a record of four wins and just one loss. On the other hand, after started the season three wins from three, Sale were looking to bounce back from suffering their first loss at the hands of Harlequins in December.
Wet and windy conditions in Greater Manchester contributed to conservative gameplans from both teams. Chiefs adapted to the conditions and asserted themselves earliest, Number 8 Kate Zackary scoring the first points.
Sharks got on the board soon after with a penalty, Sarah Law reliable as ever off the tee.
Despite heroic defence from Sale, the possession and territory proved dividends and Chiefs doubled their lead former when Shark Jodie Ounsley scored out wide. The away team then scored their third through Hope Rogers soon after.
However, with halftime looming and the momentum against them, Katana Howard intercepted a pass and got Sale metres from the Chiefs line. Showing patience and resilience, Sale scored through the one and only Vicky E Irwin to narrow the halftime deficit to just 11.
Exeter came out of the blocks in the second half, scoring just two minutes after the break through fullback Merryn Doidge and added seven more points when Rogers scored her second try.
Sale found a stronger foothold in the final third of the game but failed to turn attacking positions and chances into points as the game finished 35-10 to the visitors.
Chiefs took home the bonus point win but Sale could be proud of their impressive defensive efforts which held Exeter scoreless for the last 25 minutes.
Sale now face a quick six-day turnaround as they travel to Bristol next Saturday. Bears have the same record as Sale with 3 wins and 2 losses but sit two places higher in the table, in fourth, on superior points difference. It will prove to be a competitive, hotly contested match in the south west as both teams look to bounce back from losses.