Sale head coach Alex Sanderson pledged his team will bounce back from the bitter disappointment of their 45-21 Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat at La Rochelle. A week after scoring six tries of their own in a 57-14 demolition of the Scarlets to reach the last eight for the first time in 15 years, Sale got hit for six themselves as the Jono Gibbes and Ronan O’Gara-inspired French side laid down their credentials with a first-ever trip into the final four.

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Sanderson, whose Sale team only trailed 18-16 at half-time before La Rochelle duo Raymond Rhule and Geoffrey Doumayrou both scored two second-half tries each, said: “I thought we were at the races after an extremely competitive first half in which we gave them some relatively soft tries. But we weren’t in the second half and we have to be better if we want to come to places like this in the future and win.

“We had parity in most of the collisions around the field, but it went wrong for us against their set-piece power. I knew the players would keep fighting and I was proud of their effort. It is a learning curve for us and you have to lose games like these before you can come back and win them. This is only the beginning for us and we will bounce back.”

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Sanderson took off World Cup winner Faf de Klerk with 20 minutes to go as he tried everything he could to claw back the game. It was the first time in his twelve games in charge of the Sharks that Sanderson had seen his team concede more than four tries.

“They scored two quick tries in the second half that put us on the back foot and we weren’t sure about the slap down try in the first half,” said de Klerk. “La Rochelle are a good team and they played a great brand of rugby. I was disappointed to come off, but I back the coaches.”

La Rochelle may not have won the Champions Cup before, but Gibbes knows what it takes to go all the way from his time coaching at Leinster and O’Gara was a two-time winner in his Munster days. Currently sitting in second place in the Top 14 they have plenty of silverware in their eye line. “We needed a whole 80-minute performance because we knew it was going to be a stern test. We knew we had to use our strength, which is using the ball in hand,” said Gibbes.

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“We have got to take confidence from the last few weeks. This will be our first semi-final and we have just created a little bit of history. We will keep on taking each 80 minutes at a time and make sure we leave the pitch with no regrets. We have passed a stern test and we need to use the energy of the last few weeks to get excited about the semi-final.”

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