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Sale Sharks and Connacht Rugby meet for the third time this season in the European Rugby Challenge Cup on Friday night, when Pool 3 winners Sale host runners-up Connacht at AJ Bell Stadium, live on BT Sport and beIN SPORTS from 19:45 GMT.
The English side won fewer matches in Pool 3, but topped the table courtesy of six bonus points as well as two victories over the Irish province.
Sale Sharks: 1st, Pool 3, 22 points
Connacht Rugby: 2nd, Pool 3, 22 points
Sale Sharks wins: 5
Connacht Rugby wins: 1
Sale Sharks: Faf de Klerk (45), Chris Ashton (35), Will Cliff (20)
Connacht Rugby: Jack Carty (27), Kyle Godwin (20), Conor Fitzgerald (15), Matt Healy (15)
— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) March 28, 2019
- Jack Carty (Connacht): “It’s obviously going to be a massive test, but Friday night was really good preparation in terms of how physical Benetton were. Last year, against Gloucester, we probably didn’t show up and the previous year it went down to the wire in Grenoble, so we’ve been there before.”
- Denny Solomona (Sale): “The analysis team has done a great job and picked up things when we’ve played them and how they’ve been playing throughout the year to this week. I think the boys are well prepared after a short turnaround and well rested as well, so I think they are raring to go.”
- USA fly-half AJ MacGinty returns to the Sale Sharks XV to face his former club, while No.8 Josh Beaumont, flanker Tom Curry and scrum-half Faf de Klerk all start.
- Ireland international centre Bundee Aki comes into the Connacht XV, while hooker Tom McCartney captains the side. Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty form the half-back duo.
- This will be the seventh meeting between Sale Sharks and Connacht Rugby, with the Gallagher Premiership club winning five of the previous six, although both sides won their home matches when they met in the pool stage this season.
- Sale and Connacht met in the semi-finals of the 2004/05 Challenge Cup, with the Sharks winning both legs before going on to defeat Pau in the final.
- This is Connacht’s fourth Challenge Cup campaign in a row in which they have reached the knockout stage, but they have lost all three of their most recent three quarter-finals.
- Sale missed an average of just 15 tackles per game in the pool stage, fewer than any other club.
- Sale conceded just 12 tries and no side conceded fewer.
- Connacht’s James Connolly made more tackles (63) than any player who qualified for the knockout stage.
- No one scored more tries than Chris Ashton (7) in the pool stage. He now has 53 career tries in Europe and is the only player with 50+ tries in EPCR’s top two competitions.
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Sale Sharks will play in a European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final for the first time since 2008 after a convincing 20-10 victory over Connacht Rugby at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night.
First-half tries from wing duo Byron McGuigan and Denny Solomona did the damage, while fly-half AJ MacGinty contributed with ten points from the kicking tee.
It was Connacht fly-half Jack Carty who nearly grabbed the first try after a delightful intercept and sprint towards the try line, but Solomona reeled him in five metres short. Carty’s pass was then low at the feet of the unmarked Kyle Godwin, who could only knock on with the try line at his mercy.
The Irish province – playing in their dark blue alternate strip – won the first penalty in kickable range and Carty made no mistake from 33 metres out, putting Connacht ahead for the only time in the match.
Denny Solomona that is heroic! 🙌
Jack Carty looked certain for an intercept try under the posts…
But the @SaleSharksRugby speedster refused to give up 👊
Incredible defending! pic.twitter.com/ITj88QhhM7
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 29, 2019
The Connacht lead didn’t last long, as McGuigan exploited the overlap from an attacking Sale scrum, darting towards the corner after a decent set of passes to wide on the left. Against his former side, MacGinty booted over the tricky conversion.
MacGinty then set up a second Sale try as his floated pass found Solomona, who walked over the try line in the opposite corner to the opening score.
Connacht continued to struggle to get back onside, with every quick phase initiated by Sale scrum-half and man of the tatch Faf de Klerk. That meant MacGinty could add to his growing tally, with two penalty goals from in front of the posts before the interval.
Denny Solomona saves a try at one end…
Denny Solomona scores a try 10 minutes later…
What a pass from AJ MacGinty 😍
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 29, 2019
It took 27 minutes before the visitors managed to score the first points of the second half despite dominating territory and possession. That came through centre Godwin, who jinked past the the final Sale defender after a powerful Connacht scrum inside the opposition 22.
Stand-in kicker Darragh Leader slotted the conversion, but they were the final points of the match as Sale held firm despite several waves of Connacht attacks.
Sale’s fourth Challenge Cup semi-final will be against La Rochelle at Stade Marcel Deflandre.