Sale 49 Brice 24: McAlister steps in to keep Sale's margins high

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The Independent Online

Luke McAlister proved an able understudy to Charlie Hodgson with a commanding display to help usher Sale into the European Challenge Cup semi-finals.

McAlister, the former All Black star, was handed the No 10 jersey with Hodgson on the bench following the birth of his first child.

He provided Sale with significant attacking impetus in a comfortable six-try victory and dovetailed effectively with the England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.

Sale will now face a semi-final trip to either Bath or Leeds on 26 April and winning the competition will secure them a place in next season's Heineken Cup.

That McAlister has not always lived up to his reputation since arriving at Edgeley Park on a lucrative two-year contract after last year's World Cup is undeniable. Even here his tactical kicking game was up not to Hodgson's lofty standards, yet he still landed 19 points with the boot and provided a delightful crossfield kick which allowed Lee Thomas to touch down in the first half.

McAlister spent part of his childhood in Oldham, where his father Charlie was a legend at the town's rugby league club, and played in the junior ranks at Manchester United.

But it was his handling skills which helped guide Sale around the field to open up a 21-12 advantage with tries from Sébastien Chabal and Thomas.

The Sharks added further scores after the restart through Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (two), Will Cliff's first try for the club and a penalty try which McAlister converted.

Brive proved spirited opponents but Sale were simply too strong and after McAlister's third-minute penalty got them off the mark, Chabal forced his way over from a scrum.

The two sides then exchanged scores – the highlight being McAlister's superb flighted cross into the right corner for Thomas.

Shortly after the restart Sale began to run away with it. Lobbe claimed two tries in quick succession and although Brive crossed again Cliff came off the bench to add a fifth touchdown.

McAlister converted a 71st-minute penalty try but Brive had the final, worthless, say when Liebenberg scored his second, which Petitjean converted.

Sale: Tries Chabal, Thomas, J Fernandez Lobbe 2, Cliff, Penalty. Cons McAlister 5. Pens McAlister 3. Brive: Tries Sid, Liebenberg 2, Bonrepaux. Cons: Petitjean 2.

Sale: Foden, Cueto, Bell, Thomas, Ripol, McAlister, Wigglesworth, Sheridan, Bruno, Roberts, Schofield, Cox, White, Lund, Chabal. Replacements: Lawson, Sigley, C. Fernandez Lobbe, J Fernandez Lobbe, Cliff, Hodgson, Laharrague.

Brive: Palisson, Sid, Estebanez, Cooke, Boleavucu, Petitjean, Mahe, Harbut, Bonrepaux, Bordoy, Van Zyl, Liebenberg, Van Rensburg, Bonvoisin, Azoulai. Replacements: Djoudi, Domingo, Forgues, Neveu, Orquera, Ligairi, Buys.

Referee: T Hayes (Wales).

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