Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter said the red card to Sam Skinner in the second half 'transformed' the side as they made a stunning comeback to beat Sale Sharks in the final round of the Gallagher Premiership.
Sale with tries from Byron McGuigan, Aj MacGinty and Arron Reed had a dominating 19-3 lead by the start of the second half and their chances took a further boost when Exeter's Skinner was sent-off for a shoulder to the head of Fat de Klerk.
However, despite down on the numerical advantage, Exeter showed tremendous character with touchdowns from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Stu Townsend while skipper Joe Simmonds kicked two conversions and a decisive penalty in the end to complete a 20-19 victory.
The result also meant Exeter will have the home advantage when they will lock horns with Sale Sharks again in the play-off on 19th June.
“We were a team that was transformed by a red card,” said Baxter.
“Last week 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. To do that to Sale with 14 men in the second half is pretty impressive.”
Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson expressed disappointment on the letting the game slip but credited Exeter for their stunning comeback.
“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,” Sanderson said.
“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.”