European Challenge Cup Semi-Final: La Rochelle 24-20 Sale Sharks

By Andrew AloiaBBC Sport
James O'Connor of Sale Sharks is held by Geoffrey Doumayrou
Sale centre James O'Connor gets to grips with Geoffrey Doumayrou in a tense semi-final
European Challenge Cup
La Rochelle (17) 24
Tries: Penalty, Murimurivalu, Alldritt Cons: West 2 Pens: West
Sale Sharks (17) 20
Tries: Penalty, Ashton Cons: MacGinty Pens: MacGinty 2

La Rochelle hung on to beat Premiership side Sale in a thrilling semi-final in France to reach their first European Challenge Cup final.

Both sides were awarded a penalty try and had a man sin-binned in a first half that ended 17-17, with La Rochelle's Kini Murimurivalu and Sale's Chris Ashton also grabbing tries.

Gregory Alldritt's second-half try won it as his side finished a man down.

La Rochelle will face Clermont Auvergne in May's final in Newcastle.

Sale travelled to Stade Marcel-Deflandre having twice triumphed in France this season. They made the hosts, who had Jules Favre yellow-carded after the 80th minute, work hard for a famous win on the Bay of Biscay.

Sin-bins and high drama

Both sides missed chances with the boot to take the lead in the opening 10 minutes of an incident-packed first half.

Sale eventually went ahead when referee Nigel Owens awarded a penalty try and sin-binned Victor Vito for cynically collapsing a maul on the line.

Sale looked fortune not to be a man down moments later, as James Phillips hit Uini Atonio with a shoulder charge off the ball.

A penalty was the only punishment, Ihaia West taking advantage by slotting the hosts' first points.

An AJ MacGinty penalty was then followed up by a third attempt by West - a wayward kick that came off the posts and led to a remarkable penalty try in the corner.

After the ball was re-gathered, West reclaimed possession and found Vincent Rattez in the corner with a cross-field kick that resulted in a penalty score after the winger was tackled high by Denny Solomona as he attempted to ground the ball.

In the 10 minutes that Solomona then spent in the sin-bin, Murimurivalu put the hosts ahead and Ashton pounced on a smothered kick to help level the scores.

Intense early second-half pressure resulted in Alldritt diving over in the corner to restore the home side's lead.

MacGinty's second penalty then got the English visitors back to within four points with 12 minutes remaining.

Both sides had chances to win it, West sending a penalty woefully off target from right in front of the sticks before Sale mounted a last-minute attack.

In a bizarre climax, La Rochelle saw out the victory with 14 men after Favre was sin-binned for foul play during a scrappy exchange.

La Rochelle: Murimurivalu; Rattez, Doumayrou, Veivuke, Retiere; West, Bales; Priso, Orioli, Atonio, Sazy, Tanguy, Liebenberg, Alldritt, Vito.

Replacements: Bourgarit, Pelo, Joly, Jolmes, Gourdon, Berjon, Lafage, Favre.

Sale Sharks: L James; Solomona, S James, O'Connor, Ashton; MacGinty, De Klerk; Harrison, Webber, John, Beaumont, Phillips, B Curry, T Curry, Ross.

Replacements: Langdon, Bristow, Jones, Postlethwaite, Moore, Cliff, Redpath, Reed.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).