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Montpellier booked their first European Challenge Cup semi-final by beating Sale Sharks 19-25 at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Sale Sharks went into the match with confidence as they were the only team in Europe who had not lost at home but Jake White’s Montpellier have ended their run.
The French heavyweights took a slender, one-point advantage in at half-time after Paul Willemse’ driving score was wiped out by Sale wing Tom Brady. But Jake White’s men turned on the power in the second-period, winning a succession of penalties. Benoit Paillaugue kicked six of them to ensure the victory, before Sam James’ solo score made for a tense finish.
All eyes were on Sale’s star man Danny Cipriani from the off, allowing the England outside-half to bring his powerful ball carrying back-line into action. And after a spell of heavy pressure, the defence were forced to play the ball on the floor, and Cipriani fired the Sharks in-front from the penalty.
But Montpellier struck back immediately. Some slick hands from South African centre Francois Steyn and Australian international Jesse Mogg got Jake White’s men back down into Sharks territory. And when they worked it back to the right hand-side, the towering second-row Willemse was shunted over. Paillaugue converted fora 7-3 lead.
The Montpellier scrum-half added a penalty before the Sharks bit-back through Brady. Some lightning fast hands from Cipriani and Nev Edwards gave the wing the space to dart in at the corner. Cipriani was inches out with his conversion, but landed a penalty to give Sale an 11-10 lead at half-time.
But their advantage was wiped out five minutes into the second-period when Paillaugue landed a penalty from long-range, after the Sale scrum buckled against a powerful drive. And the slight number nine added another tricky shot after Eifion Lewis-Roberts gave a penalty away with his first action of the game.
Flanker Cameron Neild led another promising Sale attack before he produced a deft offload to break through the defensive line. And they could only be stopped illegally by Thibaut Privat, who handled on the floor, and was duly sent to the sin-bin by referee John Lacey. Cipriani stepped up to land another penalty goal to cut the gap to 16-14 after 62 minutes.
But Sale failed to roll away at a ruck a minute later, and Paillaugue restored their five-point lead. Replacement hooker Neil Briggs was also shown yellow to make it 14 vs. 14, and Paillaugue hit another inch perfect penalty to take the game away from the hosts. And he nailed another three-pointer nine minutes from time to send the French side through to the last four.
But there was still time for the irrepressible James to chip ahead and score five minutes from time to give Sale hope.
Final Score Sale Sharks 19 (11) Montpellier 25 (10)
Tries – Brady, James
Pen – Cipriani 3
Tries – Willemse
Pen – Paillaugue 6
Con – Paillaugue
Ref: John Lacey
Sale Sharks: Haley; Brady, James, Leota, Edwards; Cipriani, Stringer; Harrison, Taylor, Cobilas; Evans, Ostrikov; Neild, Lund (capt), Ioane
Replacements: Briggs, Lewis-Roberts, Mujati, Mills, Seymour, Mitchell, Ford, Jennings
Montpellier: Mogg; Nagusa, Tuitavake, Steyn, Fall; Lucas, Paillaugue; Nariashvili, B du Plessis J du Plessis; Willemse, Privat; Ouedraogo (capt), Liebenberg, Qera
Replacements: Ivaldi, Watremez, Kubriashvili, Watchou, Galletier, Wright, Ebersohn, Floch
With thanks to EPCRugby
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