CHALLENGE CUP Semi-final, first leg: Saturday, April 2Connacht v Sale Sharks, The SportsgroundScorers: Connacht: Tries: Andrew Farley, Matt Lacey; Con: Eric Elwood; Pen: Elwood; Drop gl: ElwoodSale: Tries: Sebastien Chabal, Mark Cueto 2; Cons: Mike Hercus 2; Pens: Hercus; Drop gl: Hercus
Despite going down to their third successive defeat at the Sportsground, Michael Bradley's charges are only a converted try down for their April 24 second leg visit to Edgeley Park.
Flanker Matt Lacey's late barge over - in the sixth minute of injury-time - saw Connacht end seven points in arrears, having conceding a trio of second half tries - two to RBS Six Nations' top try scorer Mark Cueto.
The England wing went over twice in the right corner in the final eight minutes of normal time to push the Sharks 25-11 in front.
The US Eagles fly-half Mike Hercus - a late replacement for groin victim Charlie Hodgson - had an indifferent first half, but did slot an opening drop goal after barely 70 seconds.
Connacht legend Eric Elwood - who is set to retire at the end of his 17th season out west - helped the home side keep pace with the free-running visitors.
And as the Connacht pack gradually turned the screw and Cueto sin-binned for playing the ball on the ground, captain Andrew Farley stretched over from a 34th-minute lineout shunt for the opening try.
Elwood - who turned in a nerveless man-of-the-match display - missed the conversion but tagged on a 50th-minute drop goal to push Connacht 11-6 in front.
At that stage scrum-half Chris Keane had come back from the sin-bin, having been carded for a similar offence to Cueto's in first half injury, but Sale went up a gear in the closing quarter.
Opposing props Ray Hogan and Barry Stewart - only on as a replacement for a matter of three minutes - were soon sent to the bin for fighting, as the tension mounted.
Sale seemed to ignite into action when down to 14 men as France international Sebastien Chabal rumbled over on 63 minutes from the back of the Stockport side's scrum.
That score levelled things up at 11-apiece, and while Hercus drew the conversion wide - Cueto's two converted efforts - with the first set up by quick hands from Chabal, former Scotland scrum-half Bryan Redpath and fit-again England captain Jason Robinson - took Philippe Saint-Andre's men into a commanding lead.
Lacey's strike in injury-time - converted with aplomb by Elwood - though, could be the turning point in this fascinating semi-final tie.
(15) Matt Mostyn(14) Conor McPhillips
Replacements used: Michael Swift for O'Sullivan (28 mins), Paul Warwick for Yapp, Stephen Knoop for Bracken (both half-time), Bernard Jackman for Fogarty (50), Dan McFarland for Muldoon (58-68), McFarland for Fogarty (76). Not used: Brendan O'Connor, Mike Walls.
Sale: Jason Robinson (Capt); Mark Cueto, Chris Rhys Jones, Robert Todd, Steve Hanley; Mike Hercus, Sililo Martens; Andrew Sheridan, Sebastien Bruno, Stuart Turner, Chris Jones, Dean Schofield, Jason White, Andy Titterell, Sebastien Chabal.
Replacements used: Bryan Redpath for Martens (47 mins), Barry Stewart for Turner (54), Turner for Titterrell (58-67), Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe for Bruno (68), John Payne for Rhys Jones (71), Martin Halsall for Sheridan, Richard Wigglesworth for Hanley (both 83). Not used: John Carter.
Sin-bins: Mark Cueto (Sale) (32-43 mins (first half), Chris Keane (Connacht) (46 (first half)-50), Ray Hogan (Connacht) (56-66), Barry Stewart (Sale) (56-66)HT: Connacht 8 Sale 6; Attendance: 5,800Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)