Sale cup hopes end as strong start fades
LA ROCHELLE SALE SHARKS 30 23
SALE Sharks saw their slim hopes of reaching the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals ended as they slumped to a 30-23 defeat to La Rochelle in France.
With just one win from their first four matches, Sharks’ hopes of progression were more mathematical than realistic, and despite a strong start in France, they finished with 14 men, as well as some potentially damaging injuries.
Steve Diamond had chosen to rest a number of key men but Sale were still able to take an early 10-0 lead.
However La Rochelle ended up running away with it in the second half, while Sale lost AJ MacGinty and JeanLuc du Preez to injuries, and prop Valery Morozov to a red card.
MacGinty kicked an early penalty to the corner, and while the maul was held up, Sharks continued to pound away through their forwards, with Du Preez easily powering under the sticks.
MacGinty added the simple conversion and Sale were 7-0 to the good after eight minutes. Their cause was helped when Kevin Gourdon was sent for ten minutes in the bin for an intentional knock-on in the La Rochelle 22, with MacGinty adding three more soon after.
Up a man and ten points, Sale looked to be in control, but that changed in no time at all.
A loose ball in midfield was pounced upon by Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
His clever kick was collected by Levani Botia who was stopped just short, but when the ball was recycled, debutant
Tevita Railevu took advantage of good handling to go over.
Three minutes later they were in again, Kerr-Barlow reading a wraparound and doing well to hold on to Will Cliff ’s pass before racing home from halfway. Ihaia West’s conversion made it 12-10.
Sale responded immediately through a MacGinty penalty, before he injured his shoulder trying to tackle Botia.
From the same play, Sale were pinged for a tackle off the ball, allowing West to push La Rochelle back in front.
But James Williams, taking over kicking duties from MacGinty, ensured Sale would go into the break 16-15 ahead thanks to a penalty on the stroke of half-time from a powerful scrum.
The home side reclaim the lead just before the hour, with Kerr-Barlow dummying his way through and feeding Geoffrey Doumayrou to go under the posts.
The momentum had swung the way of La Rochelle, and Sale soon found themselves down to 14, Chris Ashton yellow-carded for taking out Kerr-Barlow after he had chipped through into space. West slotted the penalty to make it 25-16.
Morozov then saw red almost immediately after coming on for dropping his shoulder into the head of Lopeti Timani, who was sin-binned for his role in the incident.
And after Du Preez had limped off, La Rochelle earned the bonus point when Brock James put Grégory Alldritt over in the corner, although Sale got a late consolation through Curtis Langdon.
Jean-Luc Du Preez scored an early try for Sale but later limped off injured
Sharks prop Valery Morozov was given a red card