Sale Sharks’ perfect record in the European Challenge Cup is over as they fell to a 17-14 defeat to Bordeaux Bègles at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Sharks never really got to grips with the wet and windy conditions and their lead at the top of the Pool Three table has been cut to just three points.
Steve Diamond’s side did themselves no favours as they were reduced to 14 men for the second week in a row after Tom Bristow was dismissed for a forearm early in the second half.
They now face a tricky trip to Galway in January to take on Connacht knowing another loss would severely damage their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
— Sale Sharks? (@SaleSharksRugby) December 15, 2018
The day had begun well for the Sharks, with Luke James going over after 12 minutes. A fabulous line from the centre that left the Bordeaux defenders with no chance. Rob du Preez converted, and it looked as if another bonus-point win could be on the cards.
However, that was as good as it got in a first-half where Bordeaux enjoyed much of the possession and territory. The French side spending long periods in the Sale 22 with only good defensive work from the Sharks keeping them at bay.
They did eventually get their reward, hooker Florian Dufour diving over after a driving maul from the visitors. Baptiste Serin levelled the scores at 7-7 with the conversion, and at half-time, the game remained in the balance.
Just before the interval, Sale were reduced to 14 men with Alexandru Țăruș sin-binned and further indiscipline would follow as Bristow saw red for his part in a scuffle on the ground.
Bordeaux would make the most of the two-man advantage early in the second half as Dufour crossed for his second try of the afternoon.
Serin converted, before adding a penalty a few minutes later and the French outfit looked well in control with a 17-7 advantage.
The Sharks’ hopes were fading, but they did show some fight to get back into the game. Rob Webber’s try closing the deficit to three points once du Preez had converted.
With 20 minutes remaining the 14-men had given themselves hope, but despite some sustained pressure and Simon Desaubies being sent to the sin-bin, they could not quite get the winning score.
The decision to turn down numerous opportunities for three points, which would have secured a draw, is one they may regret in the long run.
The Sharks will look to get back to winning ways when they return to Gallagher Premiership action against Bristol Bears next Saturday.