Sale’s hopes of progressing to the European Champions Cup quarter-finals came to an end as they were beaten 30-23 by La Rochelle.
Tries from Tevita Railevu, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Geoffrey Doumayrou and Gregory Alldritt, along with 10 points from the boot of Ihaia West, secured a bonus point victory for the hosts.
Jean-Luc du Preez and Curtis Langdon scored Sale’s tries at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre, with AJ MacGinty and James Williams kicking 13 points between them.
Du Preez opened the scoring for Sale after seven minutes as he powered over the line from short range after a period of sustained pressure by the visitors, with MacGinty adding the extras.
The visitors kept building the pressure and La Rochelle were temporarily reduced to 14 men when blindside flanker Kevin Gourdon was sent to the sin bin for an intentional knock-on.
MacGinty kicked a further three points to extend Sale’s lead to 10 points but La Rochelle hit back with two tries in the space of three minutes.
Former All Blacks scrum-half Kerr-Barlow put in a speculative up and under which was gathered by Levani Botia, who was brought down five metres short of the try line. The ball was recycled and put through the hands with a well-timed pass from Doumayrou putting Railevu over at the corner.
One hand magic! 💫January 10, 2020
Sale were immediately back on the attack but a sloppy pass from Will Cliff was intercepted by Kerr-Barlow, who ran in unopposed from 40 metres out with West converting to put the hosts into the lead.
MacGinty and West exchanged three points before a long-range penalty from Williams meant Sale turned around with a 16-15 lead.
La Rochelle started the second half strongly and after a number of powerful carries Kerr-Barlow raced clear before drawing his man to put Doumayrou over. West converted to give the hosts a 22-16 lead going into the final quarter.
Sale were struggling to cope with the pace and quality of Kerr-Barlow, with former England wing Chris Ashton’s frustration getting the better of him when he tackled the scrum-half without the ball after he had broken clear. Ashton’s indiscretion left referee Mike Adamson no choice but to award him a yellow card, which was punished by three points from the boot of West.
One hand pickups, neat kicks and dummy runs like this... 🤩January 10, 2020
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when replacement prop Valery Morozov was shown a red card due to driving his shoulder with force into the head of Lopeti Timani – but Timani was shown a yellow card after a neck roll on Morozov.
Alldritt claimed the try bonus point as he crossed at the far left-hand corner after a lovely pass from Brock James.
However, Sale refused to throw in the towel and a Langdon try from short-range cut the home side’s advantage to seven points.
The English team tried desperately to cross for a late try but La Rochelle’s defence held firm.