Sale crash to another French defeat
Aviva Premiership strugglers Sale suffered a fourth consecutive defeat by French opposition in the Heineken Cup as Montpellier kept alive their qualification hopes with a 27-16 bonus-point win at the City of Salford Stadium.
With their quarter-final hopes sunk in December by back-to-back defeats to Toulon, Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond opted to give run-outs to several fringe players and, as expected, they proved no match for their star-studded visitors.
It proved to be a testing debut for number eight Josh Beaumont, the 20-year-old son of former England captain Bill Beaumont, who found himself up against man-of-the-match Johnnie Beattie.
Montpellier, flying high in the French League, made it four successive wins while a bonus point enabled them to draw level with Toulon, who play Cardiff on Saturday before hosting their pool six rivals at Stade Yves du Manoir in their final match next Saturday.
Dominant in the set piece and sharper on attack, Fabien Galthie's men would have enjoyed an even greater margin of victory but for some slipshod handling in the bitterly cold conditions and an off-day with the boot by Benoit Paillaugue, who succeeded with just two of his five goal attempts.
The match began in predictable fashion when an incisive break by full-back Pierre Berard was supported by skipper Fulgence Ouedraogo, who sent winger Yohann Artru over by the posts for the game's opening try on nine minutes.
Scrum-half Paillaugue added the conversion, after earlier missing a penalty, to make it 7-0 but Sale refused to buckle under the early pressure. Fly-half Danny Cipriani pulled three points back with an 18th-minute penalty and strong runs from three-quarters Mark Jennings and Charlie Amesbury had the Montpellier defence briefly back-pedalling.
The French side had the greater threat, however, and they added a second try seven minutes before the break when Scotland international Beattie picked up a loose ball to charge over. Paillaugue was off target with his conversion attempt and Cipriani cut the deficit to 12-6 with a second penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Paillaugue then stretched his side's lead with a 47th-minute penalty, and the game was effectively over as a contest two minutes later when dangerous centre Thomas Combezou sliced through the heart of the Sharks defence and the supporting Timoci Nagusa sent Berard over for a third try.
It was all Montpellier in the final quarter and the pressure finally told two minutes from the end when the Sale pack crumbled once too often and referee Leighton Hodges awarded Montpellier a penalty try, which replacement Eric Escande converted.