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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 6 June, 2020


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Good evening and welcome along to our live coverage of the Challenge Cup quarter-final between Sale Sharks and Connacht from the AJ Bell Stadium.

What a weekend of European rugby we have in store and no better place to start than Salford, where Andy Friend’s Connacht are bidding to continue their exciting progress and reach a first Challenge Cup semi-final since 2010.

It’s the third meeting of the season between the sides, who shared the spoils during the pool stages either side of Christmas, but this is knockout rugby with a place in the final four on the line.

Can Connacht get the weekend off to the perfect start for the provinces and continue their two-pronged challenge this season? We’re live and following all the action from 7.45pm.

The scene is set at the AJ Bell Stadium, where it’s a beautiful spring evening for rugby. 

Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty before the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Bundee Aki arrives

A view of the Connacht dressing room

A view of Challenge Cup match balls

TEAM NEWS: Former Connacht out-half AJ MacGinty is back from injury to start for Sale Sharks, with the Dublin native forming a half-back pairing with Springbok Faf de Klerk. England flanker Tom Curry will also be a formidable threat for Connacht tonight, but Steve Diamond’s side are missing Chris Ashton. 

Sale Sharks:

15. Luke James
14. Denny Solomona
13. Sam James
12. Rohan Janse van Rensburg
11. Byron McGuigan
10. AJ MacGinty
9. Faf de Klerk

1. Ross Harrison
2. Rob Webber
3. Joe Jones
4. Bryn Evans
5. James Phillips
6. Jono Ross (captain)
7. Tom Curry
8. Josh Beaumont


16. Curtis Langdon
17. Tom Bristow
18. Alexandru Tarus
19. Josh Strauss
20. Ben Curry
21. Will Cliff
22. Cameron Redpath
23. Arron Reed.

TEAM NEWS: As for Connacht, Andy Friend is balancing his squad between two competitions and with one eye on big Pro14 games ahead, has decided to rotate his resources this week.

Bundee Aki, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty all start for the province, but captain Jarrad Butler, Tiernan O’Halloran, Quinn Roux, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Ultan Dillane and Colby Fainga’a are not involved.

It’s a big opportunity for the likes of the fit-again Niyi Adeolokun, Peter McCabe, Gavin Thornbury and Paul Boyle as Connacht look to get over their quarter-final hoodoo having lost all three of their most last eight appearances. 


15. Darragh Leader
14. Niyi Adeolokun
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Bundee Aki
11. Cian Kelleher
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Peter McCabe
2. Tom McCartney (captain)
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. James Cannon
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. James Connolly
8. Paul Boyle


16. Dave Heffernan
17. Denis Buckley
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Joe Maksymiw
20. Robin Copeland
21. Caolin Blade
22. Tom Daly
23. Stephen Fitzgerald.

This will be the seventh meeting between Sale and Connacht with the Premiership club winning five of the previous six, although both sides won their home matches when they met in the pool stage this season.

Which way do you see this one going?

Poll Results:

Connacht (175)
Sale Sharks (75)

The teams are in the tunnel and we’re just minutes away from kick-off at the AJ Bell Stadium. 

Ryan Bailey here to guide you through all the action as it happens, while Murray Kinsella is in position in Salford as we bring you live coverage of this Challenge Cup quarter-final.


KICK OFF! Jack Carty gets us underway in Salford. Connacht, in their navy European kit, playing from left to right as we look in this first period. 


1 mins – Carty’s kick-off causes a mix-up in the Sale defence and the visitors have an instant attacking platform on that far side. They move it through the hands but a knock-on, from Dominic Robertson-McCoy, sees the move break down. 


2 mins – A solid scrum from Sale sees the dangerous Faf de Klerk press his side into attacking mode for the first time, as they retain possession through the phases in the 22. 


3 mins – But Jack Carty — the man of the moment — intercepts and streaks clear from 80 metres out, only to be tracked down yards short by Solomona and his attempted offload for Godwin goes to ground. A real chance for Connacht spurned. 


5 mins – Sale looking very threatening in attack but that was a great read by Carty and he just didn’t have enough pace to get away to the line. We’ve a stoppage in play now as Janse van Rensburg requires treatment after a hefty collision. 


5 mins – Frantic opening passage of play at the AJ Bell, but a penalty on halfway gives Connacht the chance to catch their breath and for Carty to launch this one deep into Sale territory. 


7 mins — Penalty! Sale 0-3 Connacht (Carty)

First blood to the western province! Carty nails his first attempt off the tee after Sale were offside. Excellent start for Friend’s men. 

Flag 10Mins

10 mins — TRY! Sale 7-3 Connacht (Byron McGuigan)

That’s a soft try to concede from a Connacht perspective. Adeolokun comes off his wing but is caught in no man’s land, leaving acres of space for McGuigan to run it into the corner after MacGinty’s pass. The out-half nails the touchline conversion. 


14 mins – After a bright start, Connacht have been sloppy in the last few minutes. From that try, Sale are looking to turn the screw as they disrupt the province’s lineout and then set down an ominous marker at the set-piece. 

Flag 15Mins

15 mins — TRY! Sale 14-3 Connacht (Solomona)

Worrying for Connacht. They’re left scrambling as Sale punch holes in the visitors’ defence and then MacGinty floats a delightful pass out wide to Solomona, who has the simple task of running it home untouched. 


17 mins – Basic mistakes are costing Connacht, while they simply can’t live with Sale’s early intensity. Friend’s side already have a mountain to climb here. 


19 mins – Connacht have been camped inside their own 22 for much of the opening quarter but they win a relieving penalty when Tom Curry is penalised for coming in at the side. The visitors need to get a foothold back in this game.


21 mins – Another outstanding kick from the MacGinty, who is not playing like an out-half who has hardly played this season. On the other hand, Carty’s execution is just off as he attempts to kick in behind. 


22 mins – Speaking on BT Sport, Connacht team manager Tim Allnutt admits it’s ‘pretty disappointing’ so far from the province, who haven’t been able to string too many phases together as of yet. 


23 mins – Much, much better from Connacht. A solid platform allows Carty find the space in the backfield, and Connacht win the throw deep inside Sale territory. 


24 mins – Dominic Robertson-McCoy is in a bit of discomfort and requires some treatment. Finlay Bealham is getting himself ready on the touchline but isn’t needed just yet. 


25 mins — Connacht have settled down well since conceding that second try and Carty has the chance to reduce the deficit off the tee here, but the out-half drags his effort from 35 metres out wide. The Ireland international will be disappointed with his effort there. 


26 mins – Robertson-McCoy cannot, in fact, continue and Bealham is on for Connacht. 


28 mins – Sale’s linespeed is causing Connacht all sorts of problems and Rob Webber then gets over the ball and wins the turnover penalty for the home side. MacGinty has called for the tee. 


28 mins — Penalty! Sale 17-3 Connacht (MacGinty)

Carty misses at one end, MacGinty makes it three from three at the other. Sale’s lead is out to 14 points. 


32 mins – A better defensive set from Connacht but Sale are so, so dangerous with ball in hand and look like breaking through every time they get on the front foot. Another penalty, this time conceded by James Cannon, gives MacGinty another shot at goal. 


33 mins — Penalty! Sale 20-3 Connacht (MacGinty)

Connacht’s former out-half is coming back to haunt the province as he knocks over another three points. 


35 mins – A half a yard of space for Connacht on halfway but Aki is knocked backwards by Solomona and then Webber gets in over it to win another steal. So frustrating for Andy Friend’s men. 


39 mins – Connacht’s lineout has completely malfunctioned in this first half and a crooked through from McCartney causes more frustration as we approach half-time. They’ve yet to get through a phase in the Sale 22.


40 mins – Rohan Janse van Rensburg powers through midfield and Sale are looking to strike as the clock turns red. Connacht need to hold out here. 

Flag 40Mins

Half-time! Sale Sharks 20-3 Connacht

A very disappointing first-half from Connacht as they trail by 17 points at the break. Andy Friend’s side have a mountain to climb in the second 40. 


Murray Kinsella’s view from the AJ Bell:


KICK OFF! The sides are back out and we’re underway again at the AJ Bell. Can Connacht pull off a big fightback? 


42 mins – Already Connacht are showing far greater aggression and intent in defence, and after a number of phases of Sale possession, the hosts knock it on. Much better from the province.


42 mins -- Gav Thornbury requires some running repairs after cutting the top of his head in the act of making a tackle in that previous passage of play. Joe Maksymiw is on as a blood sub. 


44 mins – Connacht look to use the left boot of Kyle Godwin, but again the execution is poor, as his kick goes into touch on the full. Poor from the centre. 


44 mins – Things go from bad to worse for Connacht. Carty is holding his shoulder after an earlier hit and is being replaced by Tom Daly, with Godwin shifting to out-half. 


48 mins — Thornbury is back on after being patched up. Meanwhile, Godwin launches Connacht into the Sale 22 and they have a promising platform here. The visitors need the next score…


48 mins – Sale are offside and Connacht have a free shot. Marmion moves it right to Daly, but the hosts close the door again. This is much better from Andy Friend’s men, who are showing real intent here. 


49 mins – Oh dear. Kyle Godwin has just made an inexcusable mistake. Connacht turn down the three points in front of the posts and Godwin then horribly miscues his kick for the corner, as it goes dead. That’s a shocker and there’s no wonder Andy Friend does not look amused in the coach’s box. 


50 mins – Connacht have to rebuild from halfway and although there is a half-break, Sale have the chance to counter after Faf de Klerk’s intervention and this is very dangerous. Adeolokun comes across to cover and does well as the visitors win the penalty. 


53 mins – Another poor kick from Godwin. Connacht are going nowhere and the makeshift out-half feels his only option is to kick, but the execution is way off. 


54 mins – Friend has made a couple of changes. Stephen Fitzgerald is on for Adeolokun and Robin Copeland has replaced Eoghan Masterson. 


60 mins – Frenetic passage of play as possession exchanges hands. Leader makes a good break after retrieving a loose ball and Fitzgerald does well to maintain the momentum. Connacht need to find something, anything, here as we enter the final 20 minutes.


60 mins — Yellow! Sale are down to 14 as James Phillips is sent to the bin by Mathieu Raynal for a dangerous hit on Godwin. Connacht have made two changes, meanwhile. Caolin Blade is on for Marmion and Maksymiw is back on. 


60 mins – Ugh. Another chance is spurned by Connacht as an unforced error sees it break down. So, so frustrating. Heffernan is now also on for McCartney, by the way.  


63 mins – Connacht have pretty much dominated possession in this second period but they’ve got absolutely nothing to show for it. Daly finds space in behind with a delightful kick but then Sale turn it over again as Connacht looked to strike. Denis Buckley is on for McCabe.


67 mins – This pretty much sums up Connacht’s night. A solid scrum platform in midfield allows Blade fire it left and Leader finds Kelleher, but a fumble gives the Sale defence time to scramble across and ultimately bump him into touch just before he can get it down.

Flag 69Mins

68 mins — TRY! Sale 20-10 Connacht (Godwin)

A lifeline for Connacht. Finally. Off the back of a scrum, Blade finds Godwin and he gets through a few tackles to get over the whitewash. Leader adds the extras after taking over the place-kicking duties. 


70 mins – 10 minutes remaining in Salford and Connacht trail by 10. 


72 mins – Connacht look to stretch Sale and strike out wide, but Kelleher’s pass is fumbled by Fitzgerald on the right. That’s Connacht’s 11th handling error tonight.


75 mins – Penalty to Connacht and Godwin launches it deep into Sale territory. 


76 mins – But, again, the move breaks down. And that, you feel, is that for Connacht. 


79 mins — Curtis Langdon is shown yellow as the clock ticks towards 80. Leader is going to have a crack at this from halfway. 


80 mins – But his effort falls way short, and there is real concern here for Finlay Bealham who is down with three medics around him. This is the last thing Connacht need now after losing Jack Carty to injury earlier in the evening.


80 mins – Bealham is not in a good way. He looks to be in serious pain with a hand or arm injury and is struggling to be helped off the field. 

Flag 80Mins

Full-time! Sale 20-10 Connacht

Andy Friend’s side crash out of the Challenge Cup after a very disappointing and frustrating performance — but the injuries to Carty and Bealham are of more concern ahead of the Pro14 run-in. 

Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman look ahead to a huge weekend for the provinces in Europe and Ryan Bailey catches up with Ian Keatley on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

About the author:

Ryan Bailey


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