Sale boss Alex Sanderson was left to rue missed opportunities and called for more ruthlessness after seeing his side knocked out of the Champions Cup following an impressive display by holders La Rochelle.

The two-time reigning champions secured their place in the last 16 while consigning Sale to the Challenge Cup with a 37-24 win at the AJ Bell Stadium today.

Sale trailed 30-0 after 50 minutes, but staged a spirited second-half rally which resulted in tries for Tom Roebuck, Sam Dugdale, Telusa Veainu and Agustin Creevy.

But that proved to be too little, too late for the Sharks, with director of rugby Sanderson admitting they need to do better in key moments.

He said: “I’m very proud of the effort, but we missed a few opportunities out there which could have made a huge difference.

“There were massive momentum swings in that game, but ultimately we weren’t good enough as you need to be more clinical against the top teams.

“They have statistically the lowest time in play, on average 31 minutes, so we wanted to move the ball and play faster than them, but they did move the ball better than us.

“At the start of the season, our attack was behind others in terms of performance, but I think we are now up to scratch in that area so that’s encouraging.”

La Rochelle had looked in danger of seeing their title defence come to an early end after losing their first two group matches, but they stepped up when it mattered to remain on track for a hat-trick of crowns.

Jack Nowell was a second-half replacement for La Rochelle against Sale and the former Exeter and England star, playing his first season at the club, is thrilled with life at the French side.

He said: “I’m absolutely loving it, it’s an unbelievable place to be and it’s an unbelievable team.

“With many of the boys at the World Cup, it was a slow start to the season and it took some time to bed the boys back in.

“We fronted up last week against Leicester last week and again here today.”

“Playing at home in our stadium is fantastic, but we’ve put ourselves in a position where we are going to be on the road in this competition, but we are good enough to win away.

La Rochelle’s director of rugby Ronan O’Gara added: “It was a strange game and we are a serious team when we get our moments right, but we need to put it all together.

“The team is all about character. Boys like Will Skelton and Uini Atonio are not fussed about training, but they certainly show their capabilities on match day.”

La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt, who was named player of the match, said: “We are pleased to get through to the next stage of the competition. The tournament means a lot to us so we’ll keep trying to the last minute to make it a hat-trick of successes.”