Skinner’s dismissal for a high tackle on Faf De Klerk was followed by a stunning comeback from the Chiefs as they snatched a 20-19 win to book a home Premiership semi-final against Sale
Rob Baxter felt Sam Skinner’s red card was a turning point for Exeter against Sale
Rob Baxter claimed Exeter Chiefs were “transformed” following a second-half red card for lock Sam Skinner as they staged an extraordinary fightback with 14 men to beat Sale Sharks.
Exeter trailed by 16 points at Sandy Park when Skinner was sent off for a high challenge on Sale’s South African scrum-half Faf De Klerk.
But then they scored 17 unanswered points, won 20-19 and secured a home Gallagher Premiership play-off against the same opponents next Saturday.
“We were a team that was transformed by a red card,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said. “Last week (against Northampton) we got transformed by an 18-0 trouncing at half-time, this week it was a red card.
“It just shows you that when we have nowhere to go and we have to stand and fight, we are a good side.
“I am kind of hoping we have been in a bit of a phoney war until now. The last two or three weeks there has always been another game. All of a sudden, there is nothing else.
“If we don’t want to turn up from minute one next week, the season is gone – and I genuinely do think that will change us and give us a real direction and purpose. Once we’ve got a real direction and purpose, we look a very, very good team.”
It just shows you that when we have nowhere to go and we have to stand and fight, we are a good side.
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter
Exeter somehow turned the game on its head after Skinner’s 54th-minute exit, storming to victory through tries by Luke Cowan-Dickie and Stu Townsend, while skipper Joe Simmonds kicked two penalties and two conversions, including a penalty clincher nine minutes from time.
Sale, seeking a first Premiership final appearance for 15 years, will return to Devon next weekend, yet one more try when they led 19-3 and keeping Exeter at a safe distance would have meant the game going to the north-west instead.
“To come out and win that game, given the position we were in, there are not many teams that are going to do that,” Baxter said. “It’s a great credit to the players.
“But it is going to run out if we keep thinking we can shift our game so much from half to half, because sooner or later, teams are not going to let us do that. It is a semi-final now, an all or nothing game.”
Exeter celebrate Luke Cowan-Dickie’s try against Sale
Winger Byron McGuigan, fly-half AJ MacGinty and wing Arron Reed scored tries for Sale, with MacGinty booting two conversions, but ultimately they were undone by Exeter’s astonishing resilience as they were edged out on a day when their England centre Manu Tuilagi made a strong first start for nine months.
And they also suffered a cruel injury blow on the stroke of full-time as influential playmaker MacGinty was carried off.
MacGinty and injured team-mates Akker Van Der Merwe and Cameron Neild look set to miss next week’s play-off.
“I am gutted for the outcome of the game, which I think we should have had more control over, but more so for the lads who got injured,” Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson said.
I just felt like we had it at 50 minutes and we blew it, but Exeter are a very resilient, well-coached side that know what works for them.
Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson
“The obvious thing was the set-piece discipline, and we didn’t take all of our opportunities.
“I was very confident coming here. We had trained well, and the feeling has been really good in the camp. We are not going to lose that feeling in a week, backing up games.
“There were loads of things to take from it. I just felt like we had it at 50 minutes and we blew it, but Exeter are a very resilient, well-coached side that know what works for them, and they are efficient at doing it.”