Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson said he is “growing in belief” after his side stuck to the game plan to beat Exeter.

The Sharks moved up to second in the Premiership with a 28-20 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium to maintain their perfect start to the season with a third win in three.

Tries from hooker Akker van der Merwe, captain Ben Curry and debutant Joe Carpenter inflicted Exeter’s first defeat of the campaign and left Sanderson feeling satisfied at Sale’s ability to get over the line in a closely-fought encounter.

He said: “I have a growing sense of belief in these lads to get through games like these.

“I’m proud of the physicality and getting the monkey off the back after losing four [in a row] against them.

“We got into our kicking game and stuck to our guns with that. We started to play in the right areas which we didn’t do for the first 30 minutes.

“You have got to play in the right areas against these boys because they will farm penalties around the halfway line and then they’re into your 22 and they’re pretty lethal.

“It was about winning the territory battle and we did that better in the second half.”

Sale relied on an effective kicking display to nullify Exeter’s dangerous attacking threat and edge an absorbing contest.

The Chiefs never truly fired despite scores from captain Luke Cowan-Dickie and replacement Sam Maunder in what was a dogged statement win for Sharks.

Sanderson added: “To cement this team’s identity and culture and what we’re about this season, it’s really important to get those wins early, something that we didn’t do last year.

“It’s rewarding and encouraging.”

Exeter head coach Ali Hepher was left to rue missed opportunities as the Chiefs returned from their trip north empty-handed after Henry Slade’s long-range penalty at the death fell short to deny them a losing bonus point.

The visitors started ominously early on but faded after the break and struggled to contend with the power of the Sharks pack and ingenuity of fly-half Rob du Preez.

“We were disappointed not to exert our game and Sale came with a great plan,” Hepher said.

“They pressured the breakdown but we played into their hands a little bit and we were sloppy at times.

“We allowed them field position and when they go to the corner so many times they’re going to score tries; you can only repel it so long.

“We were frustrated we didn’t grab the opportunities we created and there were a few individual errors.

“We got a couple of things wrong individually, whether it was an alertness to clear or our roles in what we were supposed to do in the carry.

“We put ourselves under pressure and that becomes frustrating, but equally there were times where we could have got our attack going and we kicked ball away and lost field position.

“The guys fought hard, and we didn’t quite get there against a good side.”