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Sale Sharks won their first European Rugby Challenge Cup when they edged French side Pau 29-20 at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday.
English side Sale outscored their French counterparts by four tries to two on the contest after leading 14-13 at half time.
Sale Sharks looked like they might have left it until too late but No 8 Viliami Fihakiank came up with the goods in the 77th minute with a try and bonus point to keep their knock-out stages qualification hopes alive. .
The Tongan international back rower made it count with a pick up and go for Sale’s fourth try as they bounced back from their 30-12 opening round defeat at Newport Gwent Dragons.
And this victory ended an eight-game losing streak in Europe going back to 2014 and defeat in the tournament quarter-finals to Northampton Saints.
That was followed by a whitewash in the Champions Cup last season but the long wait is now over with their second win in four clashes with Pau, including their 27-3 triumph in the 2005 final.
South African international prop Brian Mujati gave Sale the perfect start with a third minute try and centre Mark Jennings added another before the break.
Ford converted both and added a penalty soon after the restart but Pau, back in European competition after a nine-year absence, made sure it was nip-and-tuck all the way to Mills’ late contribution.
Simon Mannix, the New Zealander now director of rugby at Les Paloise, scored 53 points for the Sharks in the Challenge Cup in the 1996-7 season and saw his current charges proved his old club with a huge challenge.
Lock Daniel Ramsay and hooker Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes got a try in each half with Thibault Daubagna weighing in with 10 points with the boot.
But for Sale the long wait to taste Euro victory again is over thanks to further tries from centre Sam James and Fihaki as they look forward to back-to-back contests with Castres Olympique next month.
Final Score Sale Sharks 29 (14) Pau 20 (13)
Tries – Mujati, Jennings, James, Mills
Pen – Ford
Con – Ford (3)
Tries – Ramsay, Lespiaucq-Brettes
Pen – Daubagna (2)
Con – Daubagna (2)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales),
Assistant ref: Sean Brickell (Wales),
Assistant ref: Wayne Davies (Wales),
Citing Commissioner: Iain Goodall (Scotland)
Michael Haley; Tom Brady, Sam James, Mark Jennings, Will Addison; Joe Ford, Chris Cusiter; Ross Harrison, Tommy Taylor, Brian Mujati, Bryn Evans, Andrei Ostrikov, Magnus Lund (c), TJ Ioane, Vili Fihaki
Replacements: Cameron Neild, James Flynn, Ciaran Parker, Jon Mills, Josh Beaumont, james mitchell, Tim Jeffers, Neville Edwards
Charly Malie; Sereli Bobo, Jale Vatubua, Watisoni Votu, Elijah Niko; Santiago Fernandez, Thibault Daubagna; Chris King, Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes, Giorgi Natsarashvili, Claude Dry, Daniel Ramsay, Loic
Bernad, Jean Bouilhou (c), James CoughlanReplacements: Vincent Campo, Jérémy Hurou, Geoffrey Moise, Josefa Ulago Domolailai, Paddy Butler, Samuel Marques, Mosese Ratuvou, Pierre Dupouy.
With thanks to EPC Rugby
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