La Rochelle book spot in Challenge Cup Final
CHALLENGE CUP REPORT: La Rochelle booked their spot in the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final after producing a terrific performance to defeat Sale Sharks 24-20 in an enthralling last-four battle.
At a packed-out and raucous Stade Marcel Deflandre, it was the visitors that got the better start through powerful play from their forwards. Referee Nigel Owens awarded a penalty try after Sale’s line-out maul was brought down metres from the line by Victor Vito – who was shown a yellow card.
Flyhalves Ihaia West and AJ MacGinty both exchanged three-pointers before another penalty try was awarded, this time to La Rochelle. Sale’s Denny Solomona was penalised for a high tackle which prevented a certain score, with the England wing being sent to the bin as a result.
It did not take long for La Rochelle to take advantage of the extra man, with centre Kini Murimurivalu finding himself in acres of space to cross over and give the hosts the lead. Ihaia West added the extras from the tee.
But the hosts’ lead did not last for long as Sale pounced on a mistake from West, with Tom Curry charging down the New Zealander’s kick to provide wing Chris Ashton a chance to collect and score another European try. MacGinty converted the try to level the scores before the break.
It was La Rochelle who came out of the blocks the better side in the second period, putting together multiple phases before Gregory Alldritt, who was named the Man of the Match, powered over in the corner to snatch the lead back. West converted the score with a superb kick from the touchline.
United States’ MacGinty slotted over a penalty with 10 minutes remaining to narrow the score and Sale had chances towards the end to secure a stunning victory but La Rochelle managed to hang on until the final whistle.
La Rochelle back-rower Victor Vito, spoke to BT Sport afterwards: “We didn’t make it easy for ourselves. We weren’t disciplined and they capitalised early but our boys pulled through in the end. It was a tough match. We knew we had to stay tough and we haven’t had many times like this at the club but our defence was excellent.
“We will enjoy tonight but the job is not done yet. We have to nurse these aching bodies and get ready for the final.”
For La Rochelle:
Tries: Penalty Try, Murimurivalu, Alldritt
Cons: West 2
For Sale Sharks:
Try: Penalty Try, Ashton
Pens: MacGinty 2
Yellow cards: Victor Vito (La Rochelle, 13); Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks, 23); Jules Favre (La Rochelle, 80)
La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Vincent Rattez, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Botia Veivuke, 11 Arthur Retiere, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Victor Vito (captain), 7 Grégory Alldritt, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Romain Sazy, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Dany Priso.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Thomas Jolmes, 20 Kevin Gourdon, 21 Thomas Berjon, 22 Maxime Lafage, 23 Jules Favre.
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Tom Curry, 6 Ben Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Matthew Postlewhaite, 20 Sam Moore, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Aaron Reed.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales))
Assistant referees: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)), Ian Davies (Wales))
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)