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Connacht withstand Sale comeback to earn big Challenge Cup win

Andy Friend’s men head to Bordeaux in round six with a quarter-final within their grasp.

Jack Carty helped Connacht to an important win.
Jack Carty helped Connacht to an important win.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Connacht 20

Sale Sharks 18

CONNACHT, HAVING SURRENDERED a 17-0 lead, came from behind in the closing stages to take control of Pool 3 of the Challenge Cup.

But even after going ahead they had to withstand a last gasp rally from Sale before securing an invaluable win in Galway. 

They will now head to Bordeaux next weekend in control of their own destiny after a first-ever win in six meetings against Premiership side Sale.

Victory for Steve Diamond’s men would have seen them win the pool here but Andy Friend’s maiden season at the Sportsground just gets better and better.

Connacht gave themselves a strong platform when they opened up a 17-0 lead after 23 minutes thanks to a couple of tries in rapid succession.

Connacht, with a much-improved maul, overcame some sloppy lineout work to take control, with Jack Carty edging them in front with a penalty after 14 minutes.

But it was a well-worked try after 21 minutes which put them in the driving seat when Bundee Aki drew enough attention to send his centre partner Kyle Godwin through to score under the posts.

Sale, playing against the breeze, had to keep the ball in hand but Connacht pushed on and pressure by Ultan Dillane forced a sloppy pass from Chris Ashton and scrum-half James Mitchell pounced to chase a kick and score against his former club under the posts.

However, Sale hit back in the final play of the half when winger Denny Solomona set up his English international colleague Ashton to score, with Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk landing a superb conversion from the right to make it 17-7 at the interval.

James Mitchell scores a try Mitchell goes over for a Connacht try. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Sale got rightly back into contention after 52 minutes when de Klerk, having missed an easy penalty shortly after the restart, pounced to score their second try after a good break by captain Jono Ross.

He missed the conversion but after Carty failed with a penalty into the wind, de Klerk closed the gap to two with a 62nd-minute penalty.

And the World Player of the Year nominee then edged them in front for the first time four minutes later with a penalty from the left.

Connacht hit back seven minutes from time and after going to the corner with a penalty, they got one from a better position after they were held up over the line and replacement out-half David Horwitz made no mistake from 15 metres to go 20-18 in front.

That was enough as Connacht withstood a late Sale rally with de Klerk opting for the corner with a penalty from the left touchline deep into stoppage time but they were guilty of crossing and Friend’s men escaped. 

Connacht scorers:

Tries: Kyle Godwin, James Mitchell
Penalties: Jack Carty [1 from 2], David Horwitz [1 from 1]
Conversions: Jack Carty [2 from 2]. 

Sale scorers:

Tries: Chris Ashton, Faf de Klerk
Penalties: Faf de Klerk [2 from 3]
Conversions: Faf de Klerk [1  from 2].

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Cian Kelleher, Kyle Godwin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy (Darragh Leader ’71); Jack Carty (David Horwitz ’63), James Mitchell (Caolin Blade ’54); Denis Buckley (Matthew Burke ’67), Tom McCartney (Shane Delahunt ’63), Finlay Bealham (Conor Carey ’60); Ultan Dillane, James Cannon (Quinn Roux ’48-77); Eoghan Masterson (Colby Fainga’a ’54), James Connolly, Jarrad Butler.

SALE SHARKS: Chris Ashton; Denny Solomona, Sam James, James O’Connor (Luke James ’56), Arron Reed; Kieran Wilkinson, Faf de Klerk; Ross Harrison, Rob Webber, WillGriff John; Bryn Evans, James Phillips (Andrei Ostrikov ’73); Jono Ross, Tom Curry, Josh Strauss (Ben Curry ’63). 

Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).

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About the author:

John Fallon

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