Exeter Chiefs won their opening Aviva Premiership game for the third consecutive season with a stunning 43-6 victory over Sale Sharks.
Rob Baxter’s men ran six tries past the Sharks at Sandy Park on Saturday through Ignacio Mieres, Aly Muldowney, Matt Jess (two), Tom Johnson and Chris Budgen.
The toothless Sharks’ only reply was two penalties from fly-half Nick MacLeod.
Both the result and the performance was a relief to the Chiefs’ head coach, Baxter, at the beginning of a tough third season in the top flight. They will also compete in the Heineken Cup this term.
Baxter said: “It is the first result of the season and, from a coaching perspective, you feel a bit of relief. We all start on no points.
“One thing I will say – and the scoreline does not show it – that game was massively competitive for a very long time. All areas of the game were competitive, and we shaded just enough of them to give us momentum.
“Once you get a couple of scores up and a team have to start coming back at you, the shape changes – that’s what happened against Sale. As it opened up, we managed to exploit some opportunities.
“It is great credit to our players because they had to work hard for a long time to make those cracks appear.
“The best thing about the performance was that we asked the guys to be as competitive as they can in every area of the pitch, and the little bits will add up.
“We were good in a lot of areas, our line-out was competitive on their ball, our scrum was good, our breakdown was good, our line speed in defence was good – lots of little things put pressure on Sale and kept the pressure off of us.”
There were also promising competitive debuts for new Chiefs Ian Whitten and Will Chudley. Centre Whitten played all 80 minutes while scrum-half Chudley impressed for an hour before being replaced by Kevin Barrett.
Baxter said: “We had two guys coming in for their first games – Ian Whitten and Will Chudley. Will is in a key decision-making position on the pitch and we had good tempo, good movement and he reads space very well.
“Ian Whitten looked a real handful in midfield. He looked big and he was strong, and by the end of the game he was breaking a lot of tackles.”
Baxter was also pleased with contributions from backs Josh Tatupu and Jason Shoemark, who both recovered successfully from injuries over the summer.
Baxter said: “Jason does what he does. He does very little wrong and is a real competitive force who gets us over the gain line. He gives us shape in attack and defence.
“We expected him to have a bigger year last year, but he was struggling with his neck injury for quite a while. So having him back fully fit is great for us. Josh had a couple of breaks that led to pressure moments for us, and he is looking sharp as well.”
Baxter is now looking forward to next weekend’s trip to Franklin’s Gardens with confidence, despite the fact his Chiefs have yet to win at the home of Northampton Saints.
He said: “We haven’t done that well at Northampton yet. We have been the team under pressure and the aim is for us to get there and try and create some pressure on them. Hopefully we can be ambitious and get after the game next week, and the week after that.”