Springbok's red card helps Exeter claim comeback win at Sale
The Sharks began well and opened up a 10-point buffer through Ross Harrison’s try and Rob Du Preez’s penalty, but Exeter hit back to level the scores at the break as Henry Slade touched down and also added a three-pointer.
Slade then kicked the Chiefs into the lead before the key moment as Rohan Janse Van Rensburg was sent off. With the man advantage, the Devonians crossed the whitewash twice in quick succession via their England centre and second-row Will Witty.
They could not force the bonus point, however, with Sale having the final word through Ewan Ashman’s late score.
Last season’s beaten finalists had endured a poor start to the campaign, going down to defeats to Midlands duo Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers, but they were much better here, even accounting for the red card and slow start.
The Chiefs are without a number of players through injury and Lions-enforced rest, but were able to call upon Stuart Hogg for this encounter.
Hogg struggled to make an impact in the early stages, though, as Sale, who themselves are shorn of several key individuals due to the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign, controlled the opening 15 minutes.
They earned an early penalty from a scrum and, after going to the line out, eventually touched down through Harrison – just his second try for the club in over 250 appearances.
The Sharks then added a three-pointer via Du Preez before the Chiefs finally earned some possession and field position inside the opposition half. Rob Baxter’s charges were awarded a succession of penalties which eventually saw Slade reduce the arrears from the tee.
Sale continued to create the better openings, however, and should have had another try when Jono Ross broke through the middle, but his pass was just too far in front for Tom Roebuck to collect.
That profligacy was to prove costly as Exeter hit back just before the interval. Hogg, who had gradually grown into the game, played a key role after Tom O’Flaherty had set up the opportunity with a searing break. Once the wing had been halted, play shifted left and the Scot was there to brilliantly set up Slade to finish.
The centre added the conversion to level matters and then took the Devonians into the lead in the second period via a second penalty, but they were almost caught cold a minute later.
Luke James took play into the Exeter 22 and Cameron Neild thought he had scored by going through the middle of the ruck, but the flanker was correctly deemed to have been offside.
Not much was going right for Sale in the second half but they only had themselves to blame at times, particularly when Janse Van Rensburg was red-carded for connecting with the head of Harvey Skinner.
With the hosts down to 14 men, the Chiefs took advantage when Slade went over, before lock Witty showed incredible footwork to touch down and effectively put the game beyond doubt.
The Sharks did respond late on via Ashman but it proved to be mere consolation as Exeter deservedly got off the mark in the Premiership.
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