A penalty try and a Chris Ashton effort meant Sale were well in the contest following an eventful first half, in which the hosts also grabbed a penalty try while Kini Murimurivalu added a second French effort.
Both teams were reduced to 14 men in the opening 40 minutes, but Gregory Alldritt’s try for La Rochelle early in the second half proved crucial.
All Sale could manage in the second half was a penalty from Alan MacGinty.
Ihaia West hooked an early kick wide after La Rochelle won a scrum penalty before MacGinty was also awry from the tee with his first shot at goal of the afternoon.
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Denny Solomona’s sublime offload then set up Ashton who kicked ahead, but
the French defence got back to cover.
Sale were soon ahead, though, as a maul was collapsed illegally by La Rochelle number eight Victor Vito and referee Nigel Owens yellow carded the New Zealander and awarded a penalty try.
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MacGinty responded with his first successful kick of the afternoon before La Rochelle hit back.
West’s penalty stuck a post and from the loose ball, the fly-half kicked to the corner where Vincent Rattez collected.
Solomona’s tackle stopped Rattez from grounding, but the winger was yellow carded by Owens via the TMO for his hit being high and a second penalty try was awarded.
Another La Rochelle score soon followed when West spread the ball to full-back Murimurivalu who made the line despite Ashton’s attempted tackle.
West converted, but his poor performance continued when his attempted clearance was charged down by Tom Curry. Ashton hacked the loose ball on to score and MacGinty converted to make it 17-17 at the break.
Alldritt grabbed the first score of the second half to give La Rochelle the lead when he finished in the left corner from a long West pass. The fly-half also added the extra two points.
Sale responded as Ashton raced clear and West was penalised for tackling the England winger without wrapping his left arm. MacGinty kicked the resulting penalty to set up a grandstand final 10 minutes.
West continued his poor place kicking display by missing a simple late penalty, but La Rochelle held on despite late Sale pressure and losing Jules Favre to a yellow card for kicking Solomona.
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