South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winner Faf de Klerk made a victorious return to club duty as Sale beat 14-man La Rochelle 25-15 in the European Champions Cup on Sunday.
De Klerk lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy earlier in the month and featured for 75 minutes as the English side clinched their first win of the campaign to move second in Pool 2 behind Exeter but a point ahead of Glasgow in third place.
The French outfit played the entire second half with just 14 men after France hooker Pierre Bourgarit was dismissed for making contact with the eye of the hosts’ flanker Tom Curry.
“The red card changed the course of the match,” La Rochelle coach Jono Gibbes said.
“I recognise the squad showed character in the second half, even if they weren’t rewarded for their efforts. We’re disappointed,” he added.
Sale led 7-0 after eight minutes as the US Eagles’ fly-half AJ MacGinty converted Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s try.
Vincent Rattez’s effort after 20 minutes and Brock James’ extras brought the sides level.
MacGinty, who featured for the Americans at the World Cup, slotted a penalty on 32 minutes before Bourgarit’s moment of madness two minutes before the break.
As England’s Curry scuffled with La Rochelle’s Dany Priso, Bourgarit gouged the flanker’s eyes from behind and was sent for an early shower after referee Andrew Brace asked his video official for a second opinion.
Despite inferiority on the field, La Rochelle’s James brought the sides level with a three-pointer four minutes into the second half.
But the home side were awarded a penalty try, MacGinty added another kick at goal and Chris Ashton scored before the visitors’ Jeremy Sinzelle crossed for a consolation effort after the clock turned red.