Sale Sharks 34-13 Connacht
John Fallon reports from AJ Bell Stadium
CHRIS ASHTON LED the rout with a hat-trick as Sale Sharks came from behind to take control of this Challenge Cup pool.
Connacht did well initially but the wheels came off for an experimental side after the restart when Sale took control and powered through for their second bonus-point win.
A superb try on his delayed debut for Sale Sharks by Ashton helped them draw level at 13-13 at the break after a scrappy opening half.
Connacht, with Conor Fitzgerald making an instant impact in his first start at out-half, enjoyed the brighter opening.
A break by Fitzgerald forced Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk to knock-on deliberately. He got 10 minutes in the bin and Fitzgerald got a perfect kick from 25 metres in front of the posts to settle him.
He doubled the lead at the end of the opening quarter before Sale got a foothold and two penalties from de Klerk tied the match after 27 minutes.
Connacht were rewarded for their ambition when scrum-half Caolin Blade, skippering the side for the first time, opted to go to the right corner with a penalty and two lineout penalties later saw hooker Shane Delahunt get over in the right corner.
Fitzgerald added the touchline conversion after 31 minutes.
But a sloppy turnover in a good attacking position saw Sale counter from deep and Ashton, quiet until then, put on the burners to score in the right corner, with de Klerk’s excellent conversion levelling before the break.
Sale got on top after the restart and ruthlessly punished Connacht mistakes, with number eight Josh Beaumont powering over from the base of a scrum after a knock-on by Tiernan O’Halloran after 54 minutes.
Less than three minutes later they wrapped up the issue when Ashton tapped a penalty and got over.
And he secured the bonus point — complete with a swan dive — 16 minutes from time to complete the rout after Paul Boyl was binned for taking out Sam James after the full-back kicked inside the Connacht 22 after a break from the home line.
Sale Sharks scorers:Tries: Chris Ashton , Josh Beaumont
Conversions: Faf de Klerk [4 from 4]
Penalties: Faf de Klerk [2 from 2]
Try: Shane Delahunt
Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald [2 from 2]
Penalties: Conor Fitzgerald [2 from 2]
SALE SHARKS: Sam James; Chris Ashton, James O’Connor, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg (Luke James 24’), Byron McGuigan; Kieran Wilkinson, Faf De Klerk (Will Cliff 65’); Ross Harrison (Tom Bristow 65’), Rob Webber (Curtis Langdon 70’), WillGriff John (Alexandru Tarus 65’); Bryn Evans (George Nott 70’), James Phillips; Jono Ross (capt), Tom Curry (Ben Curry 65’, reversed 73), Josh Beaumont.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun (Eoin Griffin 74’), Tom Farrell, Kyle Godwin, Colm de Buitléar; Conor Fitzgerald (David Horwitz 58’), Caolin Blade (capt) (James Mitchell 63’); Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke 70’), Shane Delahunt (Tom McCartney 41’), Conor Carey (Conan O’Donnell 62’); Ultan Dillane, James Cannon (Joe Maksymiw 58’), Paul Boyle, Colby Fainga’a (James Connolly 70’), Robin Copeland.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse [WAL]
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