One-man advantage not enough for Bristol as Sale bounce back at Ashton Gate
Sale Sharks overcame wing Arron Reed’s first-half red card to reach the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals for a second successive season by beating Bristol 35-29 at Ashton Gate.
Reed was sent off for a shoulder-led challenge to the head of his opposite number Luke Morahan six minutes before the break, and Sale played part of the second half with 13 men following prop Nick Schonert’s sin-binning.
Bristol scored 14 points while Sale were two players down as they tried to erase a 24-3 deficit, which they eventually managed in a rollercoaster encounter before the Sharks closed out the game magnificently.
Sale emerged victorious after a pulsating last-16 second-leg clash, securing a 44-39 aggregate success after losing by a point on home soil last weekend.
The Sharks now look set to face French heavyweights Racing 92 in next month’s quarter-finals after tries from lock Lood de Jager, hooker Akker van der Merwe and fit-again wing Tom Roebuck rocked Bristol.
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The Bears hit back with tries from Morahan, replacement hooker Harry Thacker and captain Joe Joyce, while Sheedy booted a penalty and three conversions, but Sale fly-half Robert du Preez finished with three conversions and three penalties as he landed decisive 63rd- and 73rd-minute strikes before Jono Ross’ decisive try. Morahan’s late second was in vain.
Bristol’s season is now effectively over, as they languish 10th in the Gallagher Premiership with no chance of making the play-offs and trailing badly in the European Cup qualification race for next term.
The Sharks dominated early territory and possession, with scrum-half Faf de Klerk prominent, and an audacious 30-metre pass by the South African set up a chance for Reed before hooker Van der Merwe led a charge upfield to keep Bristol’s defence busy.
But the home side responded impressively, moving into Sale’s 22 when Fitz Harding partially charged down an attempted De Klerk clearance.
Jake Kerr dived over Sale’s line, only for referee Frank Murphy to disallow the try following a knock-on by Harding, while De Klerk was yellow-carded for tackling the flanker early and Sheedy kicked Bristol ahead.
Du Preez soon landed an equalising penalty, and Sale went ahead 10 minutes before half-time when De Jager powered over from close range and Du Preez converted for a seven-point advantage.
Reed then received a red card for his reckless challenge, yet Sale finished the half strongly and claimed a second try when Van der Merwe rounded off sustained forward pressure, and Du Preez’s conversion put them 17-3 ahead at half-time.
With Bristol’s season on the line, rugby director Pat Lam had already sent on Piutau and he was rapidly followed off the bench by centre Semi Radradra and flanker Steven Luatua.
Thacker’s try after Schonert departed put Bristol back in contention, before Morahan crossed unmarked, and with Sheedy converting both scores Sale’s lead had been slashed to seven points.
Joyce touched down 17 minutes from time and Sheedy’s conversion tied things up on the night, before Du Preez’s two penalties put Sale back in front as Bristol lock John Hawkins was sin-binned.
Ross’ late score sealed an outstanding victory, even though Morahan claimed his second touchdown.
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