Holders La Rochelle beat Sale to reach Champions Cup last 16

rugby21 January 2024 20:35| © AFP
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Holders La Rochelle booked their place in the knockout stage of the Champions Cup with a hard-fought 37-24 win over Sale at a windy Salford Stadium on Sunday.

The French side, who were in danger of missing qualification completely after losing their opening two fixtures in December, ran in four tries from Dillyn Leyds, Antoine Hastoy, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and UJ Seuteni.

Flyhalf Hastoy, left out of France's Six Nations squad this week, was also outstanding off the tee, weighing in with three penalties and three conversions for a personal tally of 20 points.

"We are happy to get to the next stage," said La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt.

"(It's) something huge for us being two-time champions. We have a little possibility now of making it three times in a row so we will fight to the end.

"We showed everyone we can play anyone anywhere."

La Rochelle's win meant they finished third in Pool 4 ahead of Leicester who took the final qualifying spot.

Sale ended fifth and dropped into the Challenge Cup.

Playing into the wind, Sale made the brighter start with wing Tom Roebuck spilling the ball with the line at his mercy.

But it was the visitors who got the first score seven minutes in. A charge down off Robert du Preez's kick bounced kindly for Leyds to kick through and collect.

The former Springbok wing still had plenty of work to do, muscling his way through the tacklers to dot down.

Hastoy converted and added a penalty before Sale lost Jonny Hill, stretchered off with a nasty knee injury.

Three minutes before half-time Hastoy popped over a penalty in front of the posts and added a far more difficult one from out wide to make it 16-0 at the break.

La Rochelle started fast in the second half as a turnover by Levani Botia created a counter-attack that culminated in Hastoy scampering through for their second try.

Former All Black scrumhalf Kerr-Barlow dived over for the third with Hastoy's conversion making it 30-0.

After Roebuck and fellow wing Aaron Reed both had tries ruled out, Sale finally got on the board just before the hour when Roebuck, with plenty of space out on the right, strolled in for their first try.

La Rochelle were under pressure and soon down to 13 men as Hastoy and fullback Brice Dulin were sent to the sin bin, Sale capitalising through hooker Agustin Creevy.

Seuteni ended home hopes, though, with an intercept try that secured the victory and the bonus point.


Late tries from Sam Dugdale and Telusa Veainu enabled Sale to narrow the gap and collect a bonus point but it was little consolation for a defeat that ended of their Champions Cup hopes.

La Rochelle will travel to the Stormers of South Africa in the last 16.

"Playing at home in our stadium is fantastic, but we've put ourselves in a position where we are going to be on the road in this competition, but we are good enough to win away," La Rochelle wing Jack Nowell told the BBC.

Five-time champions Toulouse completed a perfect group stage with a 31-19 win over Bath in Pool 2.

The French side will host Top 14 rivals Racing 92 for a place in the quarterfinals while Bath travel to fellow English side Exeter.

Toulouse's win was clouded by a knee injury suffered by back-rower Anthony Jelonch which may rule him out of the Six Nations.

France begin their campaign against defending champions Ireland in Marseille on 2 February.

Exeter, already assured of a place in the knockout stages, lost 40-17 to Bayonne in Pool 3.