Sale suffered a second successive European Champions Cup defeat as French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne powered to an emphatic victory at Stade Marcel Michelin.
An early try by Clermont’s former Bath full-back Nick Abendanon put the home side in charge before wing Napolioni Nalaga claimed two second-half touchdowns and substitute Aurelien Rougerie also scored, while fly-half Camille Lopez’s 15-point haul kept his team firmly in Pool One contention.
Sale, though, have fallen off the quarter-final pace in a punishing group that also includes Saracens and Munster.
Steve Diamond, the Sale director of rugby, said in a candid assessment: “They drilled us in the last 10-15 minutes.
“It was difficult to take, but that’s what happens against a top side. We were in the game for the first half, but with their power and the depth of their squad, Clermont just turned it up a bit in the last 20 minutes. We couldn’t stay with it.
“There was no lack of effort by us, but some basics let us down at the lineout. You can’t be pleased after a result like that, but we were beaten by a far better side on the day.”
Fly-half Danny Cipriani’s first-half penalty was the limit of Sale’s meagre points tally, but the Sharks were mauled in the second period as Clermont posted 22 unanswered points.
Abendanon’s score was created by centre Jonathan Davies, but Davies suffered a suspected shoulder injury in the process, which will be a major cause of concern for Wales coach Warren Gatland.
Davies’ early exit came just a fortnight before the opening autumn Test against Australia and less than 24 hours after another of Gatland’s leading midfield players – Scarlets’ Scott Williams – limped off with hamstring trouble during a Champions Cup clash against Leicester.
Sale enjoyed some good moments but ultimately the hosts had too much power and class. Cipriani mixed nice touches with a couple of careless mistakes, but along with the rest of his side he was powerless to prevent the Clermont onslaught after the break.
After the break, Clermont grew more dominant by the minute and added a second try when Nalaga claimed Lopez’s cross-kick and stepped inside two covering defenders to score.
The Fijian added a second with 10 minutes remaining and the 34-year-old Rougerie dummied on halfway, handed off Tom Arscott and outpaced the Sale defence to score in the corner.