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La Rochelle welcome two-time Challenge Cup winners Sale Sharks to the Stade Marcel-Deflandre for the first time as they seek their maiden European final for the club on Saturday evening.
The English outfit, who were winners of the competition in 2002 and 2005, sealed their spot in the last four with a 20-10 success at home to Connacht Rugby, while La Rochelle defeated Bristol Bears 39-15 in their quarter-final fixture. You can watch live coverage from 17:30 BST on BT Sport and beIN SPORTS.
La Rochelle: 1st, Pool 4, 24 points
Sale Sharks: 1st, Pool 3, 22 points
La Rochelle wins: First meeting
Draw: First meeting
Sale Sharks wins: First meeting
La Rochelle: Maxime Lafage (49), Ihaia West (46), Gregory Alldritt (20)
Sale Sharks: Faf de Klerk (45), Chris Ashton (35), Bryon McGuigan (20), Will Cliff (20)
⚠ Watch out, @SaleSharksRugby! ⚠#ChallengeCupRugby semi-final opponents @staderochelais scored 71 points in the Top 14 over the weekend 💨
But France centre @doumgeof 🇫🇷 is expecting a much tougher test against the AJ Bell side 👇https://t.co/i6RLolwXF0 pic.twitter.com/ZcCf1Q3Fp9
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) April 15, 2019
Steve Diamond (Sale Sharks): “They are a very good side and they are a massive team, playing in front of full house crowds every week and they are going to be a real handful. We’ve got to go and express ourselves and play rugby. We’ve got to get out the blocks and be aggressive off the line.
“The club hasn’t been to a final for many years so it would be a boost for the club. If we can get it right – and that’s what we will need to do on Saturday in a one-off game – who knows where we can go with it. “
- England international Chris Ashton – who has crossed over for seven tries this campaign – and Australian centre James O’Connor both start for Sale while back-rower Tom Curry also returns from injury.
- La Rochelle have named a back row Wiaan Liebenberg, Gregory Alldritt and Victor Vito while wing Vincent Rattez also keeps his place in the side.
- This will be the first time La Rochelle and Sale Sharks have met in European competition, although they’ve played a combined 202 games in the Challenge Cup and Heineken Champions Cup (La Rochelle – 59, Sale Sharks – 143).
- La Rochelle have reached the semi-finals for the second time, losing at home to Gloucester in 2017.
- Sale have reached the semi-final stage for the fourth time, beating Gloucester in 2002 and Connacht over two legs in 2005, before going on to lift the trophy in both seasons, however, they lost at this stage to Bath in 2008.
- Sale have won twice in France this season, beating Perpignan and Bordeaux-Bègles in the pool stage, and scoring 91 points in the two matches.
- La Rochelle have won 40/40 scrums on their own put-in this season, and they are the only side with a 100% success rate while they also have the second-best success rate at the lineout (92%).
- Only Worcester Warriors (91%) have a better tackle success rate than Sale (88%).
- 11 of La Rochelle’s 37 tries this season have come after winning a turnover, more than any other side in the competition.
- La Rochelle’s Romain Sazy has six lineout steals to his name and no player has won more opposition throws (Cameron Woki of Bordeaux-Bègles also 6).
- La Rochelle’s Gregory Alldritt (69 carries, 60 tackles) and Sale’s Jono Ross (58 carries, 73 tackles) are two of just seven players to make 50+ carries and 50+ tackles in the Challenge Cup this season, and they are the only two of those seven to have reached the semi-finals.
- Only Clermont’s Peter Betham (10) has more tries this season than Sale’s Chris Ashton (7, same as Northampton’s Alex Mitchell).
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La Rochelle booked their spot in the European Rugby Challenge Cup final after producing a terrific performance to defeat Sale Sharks 24-20 in an enthralling last-four battle.
At a packed-out and raucous Stade Marcel Deflandre, it was the visitors who got the better start through powerful play from their forwards. Referee Nigel Owens awarded a penalty try after Sale’s line-out maul was brought down metres from the line by Victor Vito – who was shown a yellow card.
Fly-halves Ihaia West and AJ MacGinty both exchanged penalties, before another penalty try was awarded, this time to La Rochelle. Sale’s Denny Solomona was penalised for a high tackle which prevented a certain score, with the England winger being sent to the sin bin as a result.
It did not take long for La Rochelle to take advantage of the extra man, with centre Kini Murimurivalu finding himself in acres of space to cross over and give the hosts the lead. West added the extras from the tee.
However, the hosts’ lead did not last for long, as Sale pounced on a mistake from West, with Tom Curry charging down the New Zealander’s kick to provide wing Chris Ashton with a chance to collect and score another European try. MacGinty converted the try to level the scores before the break.
La Rochelle put the ball into the Bay of Biscay!
Amazing scenes in France! pic.twitter.com/1ktnW3ZBc8
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) April 20, 2019
It was La Rochelle who came out of the blocks the better side in the second period, putting together multiple phases before Gregory Alldritt, who was named man of the match, powered over in the corner to regain the lead. West converted the score with a superb kick from the touchline.
MacGinty slotted over a penalty with 10 minutes remaining to narrow the score and Sale had chances towards the end to secure a stunning victory, but La Rochelle managed to hang on until the final whistle.
Vito, speaking to BT Sport afterwards, said: “We didn’t make it easy for ourselves. We weren’t disciplined and they capitalised early, but our boys pulled through in the end. It was a tough match. We knew we had to stay tough and we haven’t had many times like this at the club, but our defence was excellent.
“We will enjoy tonight but the job is not done yet. We have to nurse these aching bodies and get ready for the final.”
Late heartbreak for the boys today.
A great performance at an amazing venue, just tipped in the end.
An exceptional contest…
Congratulations to @staderochelais pic.twitter.com/Xq5wk1gEz1
— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) April 20, 2019
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