Connacht's quest for a first European final stuttered when they finally succumbed to the greater power of the Sale pack in this first leg European Challenge Cup semi-final. But while Sale scored three second-half tries, Connacht displayed their traditional fortitude to snatch a last-gasp score of their own.
Two critical turnovers in the second half made the difference for the Irish side, minutes after Paul Warwick had missed a drop goal that could have extended their lead to 14-6. Instead, Sale forced a five-metre scrum from which their No 8 Sébastian Chabal touched down to bring the game level.
After 63 minutes Chabal capitalised on another critical turnover to break from the scrum and set up the England wing Mark Cueto for a try.
When Cueto added his second from another five-metre scrum, the Zurich Premiership side had opened a comfortable 14-point advantage.
Yet, at the death, the hosts forced their way over, with Matt Lacey touching down, ensuring that Connacht still have much to play for despite the difficulties they can expect at Edgeley Park on 24 April.
Connacht: Tries Farley, Lacey; Conversion Elwood; Penalty Elwood; Drop goal Elwood. Sale: Tries Cueto 2, Chabal; Conversions Hercus 2; Penalty Hercus; Drop goal Hercus.
Connacht: M Mostyn; C McPhillips, D Yapp (P Warwick, h-t), M McHugh, D Slemen; E Elwood, C Keane; R Hogan (D McFarland, 76), J Fogarty (B Jackman, 50), P Bracken (S Knoop, h-t), C Short, A Farley (capt), J Muldoon, M Lacey, J O'Sullivan (M Swift, 26)
Sale: J Robinson (capt); M Cueto, C Rhys Jones (J Payne, 70), R Todd, S Hanley; M Hercus, S Martens (B Redpath, 47), A Sheridan, S Bruno (I-F Lobbe, 67), S Turner (B Stewart, 52), C Jones, D Schofield, J White, A Titterrell, S Chabal.
Referee: C Berdos (France).