14-man Exeter seal home play-off with comeback win over Sale

·2 min read
England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie scored a try as Exeter came from 19-3 behind and a man down to beat Sale 20-9 and secure a home semi-final play-off spot

Champions Exeter sealed a home play-off the hard way coming back from 16 points behind and a man down to edge Sale 20-19 on Saturday.

Sale will get a chance at immediate revenge next Saturday as they return to Exeter for a play-off semi-final,seeking a place in the final for the first time since they were crowned champions in 2005.

Table-topping Bristol will host fourth-placed Harlequins in the other semi-final with the advantage of having had an unexpected day off.

The Bears game was called-off on Saturday morning after their opponents London Irish reported a Covid outbreak in their camp.

Bristol were awarded four points and London Irish two, which briefly put them into eighth spot and the final Champions Cup place for next season.

However, Bath took it after they beat Northampton 30-24.

Sale looked set for victory and a home play-off when they led 19-3 and Sam Skinner was sent off for a high challenge on 2019 South African World Cup winning scrum-half Faf De Klerk with 26 minutes remaining.

Exeter, though, showed their champion's mettle and stormed back.

Tries by England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and substitute scrum half Stu Townsend were both converted by Joe Simmonds, who slotted over a penalty to seal victory nine minutes from time.

"It's hard for me to explain really," Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter told the BBC.

"Weirdly we were a team that was transformed by a red card.

"It just shows you that when we have nowhere to go and no avenue to go and we have to stand and fight, we're a good side."

Baxter said he hoped inconsistent performances over recent weeks were because Exeter had already having qualified for the play-offs.

"I'm kind of hoping that we've been in a bit of a phoney war until now because whatever's happened over the past two or three weeks there's always been another game," he said.

"There's nothing else now, this is it, if we don't want to stand and fight from minute one next week, the season's gone, and I genuinely do think that will change us."

Sale will have been heartened by the performance of England centre Manu Tuilagi in what was his first start for nine months.

Worryingly for Sale their playmaker United States international fly-half AJ MacGinty was carried off on the stroke of half-time.