La Rochelle hammer Sale to reach semis of European Champions Cup

Paris (AFP) –

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La Rochelle became the first of three French sides who will play in the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup with a 45-21 demolition of English side Sale at the Stade Marcel Deflandre on Saturday.

Centres Raymond Rhule and Geoffrey Doumayrou both scored twice and there were tries also for Gregory Alldritt and Dillyn Leyds as La Rochelle reached the last four for the first time.

La Rochelle, who are currently second in the Top 14, are guaranteed to be joined by two other French teams as Sunday's ties see Bordeaux-Begles host last year's beaten finalists Racing 92 while four-time champions Toulouse travel to Clermont.

In the other quarter-final, holders Exeter are at home to four-time champions Leinster later on Saturday.

Sale's Irish-American fly-half AJ MacGinty, who scored 32 points in their last 16 win over Scarlets, put the visitors ahead with an early penalty but he and Ihaia West traded kicks to leave the scores tied at 6-6 as the clocked reached the half-hour.

That was the cue for the first try of the game, West teeing up number eight Victor Vito down the left, whose inside pass found France flanker Alldritt who bulldozed over.

West missed the conversion and MacGinty almost immediately cut the advantage with a third penalty.

Three minutes before half-time La Rochelle got their second try when winger Leyds capitalised on a mistake by fellow South African Faf de Klerk to race through.

Sale, third in the English Premiership, bounced back immediately through centre Sam James.

MacGinty missed the conversion but was allowed to retake the kick after the La Rochelle team was deemed to have shouted out as he kicked.

The fly-half got it right second time and Sale only trailed 18-16 at the break.

The second half, however, belonged almost exclusively to La Rochelle.

Two minutes after the restart another South African made an impact, with Rhule touching down under the posts, West converting.

With the French pack becoming increasingly dominant, it was only a matter of time before La Rochelle added to the score.

It came after 52 minutes when Sale full-back Simon Hammersley was unable to deal with Brice Dulin's long kick allowing Rhule to snap up his double.

Ten minutes later the tie was effectively over as Rhule fed fellow centre Geoffrey Doumayrou for the fifth try who added a sixth swiftly after.

Byron McGuigan gave Sale a crumb of compensation just before the end but it is the French side who progress to the semi-finals.