Chris Ashton stars as Sale blow Connacht away

Andy Friend’s side kept up with English opponents for the first half but fell off the pace

Chris Ashton of Sale Sharks dives in to score his third try of their Challenge Cup win over Connacht. Photo: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Chris Ashton of Sale Sharks dives in to score his third try of their Challenge Cup win over Connacht. Photo: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

 

Sale 34 Connacht 13

Chris Ashton marked his return to rugby this season with a hat-trick of tries to send Sale on their way to what was in the end a comfortable European Challenge Cup victory.

The English winger, who had scored in both Sale’s victories against the Irish province in the 2013/14 season, grabbed his side’s only first-half try, before adding to two in a second half dominated by the Premiership side.

It had been level pegging at the break, 13-13 as both sides went tit-for-tat for most of the opening half.

An early penalty by youngster Conor Fitzgerald put Connacht into a 3-0 lead and saw Sale’s scrumhalf Faf de Clerk yellow carded after a deliberate knock on. Fitzgerald, one of two Academy players named in Andy Friend’s matchday team, had shown no signs of nerves in his first start, carving a gap in the Sale defence before the former South African Lions player conceded the penalty.

Connacht continued to take the game to their opponents and two penalties produced their first concerted attack before Fitzgerald took advantage to extend the lead with a second penalty.

However within three minutes the hosts had opened their account, Connacht conceding at the breakdown, and de Klerk drilling his kick from the 10m to kick-start a period of dominance from the home side, and adding a second minutes later to draw level.

Connacht regained the initiative with a foray into their opponent’s 22 and after two penalties to touch, Connacht’s pack did the business and hooker Shane Delahunt touched down, with Fitzgerald adding the conversion.

However before the break Sale hit back again, and from a turnover in midfield they stretched the Connacht defence with Chris Ashton scoring the first of his hat-trick in his first match of the season after returning from suspension, de Klerk adding the extras to see the sides level at the break.

And it was the side that continued after the break where they left off, and Connacht were on the hind foot for much of the half and failed to score. No 8 Josh Beaumont bulldozed through from the tail of a lineout five metres out in the 54th minute with de Klerk adding the extras, and two minutes later Ashton bagged his second.

It did not get any better for Connacht when a promising move was halted shy of the line and Connacht turned over possession to see Chris Ashton run the length of the pitch. Only Paul Boyle could catch him, but it was seconds after the English winger had chipped ahead.

The result was a yellow card for Boyle with the numbers counting in the end as Ashton claimed his third try with his trademark dive.

Yellow cards: Sale: F De Klerk (9m). Connacht: P Boyle (59m).

SALE: S James, C Ashton, J O’Connor, J van Rensburg, B McGuigan, K Wilkinston, F De Klerk, R Harrison, R Webber, W John B Evans, J Phillips, J Ross, B Curry, J Beaumont.

Replacements, L James for Anan Rensburg (23m), J Jones for Harrison, A Taurs for W John, T Curry for O’Connor, and W Cliff for De Klerk (all 64), C Langdon for Weber and G Nott for Evans (both 70).

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, T Farrell, K Godwin, C De Buitlear, C Fitzgerald, C Blade, D Buckley, S Delahunt, C Carey, U Dillane, J Cannon, P Boyle, C Fainga’a, R Copeland.

Replacements, T McCartney for Delahunt (HT), D Hortwitz for Farrell, and J Maksymiw for Cannon (58m), C O’Donnell for Carey (62), J Mitchell for Blade (63), M Burke for Buckley and J Connolly for Fainga’a (both 69), E Griffin for Adeolokun (73).

Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).

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