Champions Cup: La Rochelle v Ulster

Les Kiss's side face a daunting trip to the west of France to play Champions Cup newboys La Rochelle

Patrick Madden Sun, Oct 22
LIVE: Champions Cup: La Rochelle v Ulster

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  • Good afternoon!

    Welcome to our coverage of Ulster's Champions Cup clash away to La Rochelle.

    It's been a fine weekend on the continent for the provinces thus far - with wins for Connacht, Leinster and Munster.

    And if Ulster can make it a clean sweep, it will be quite an achievement - today's assignment is a tricky one.

    Indeed, La Rochelle might be competing at Europe's top table for the first time, but their convincing opening win over Harlequins showed they aren't just here to make up the numbers.

    We've already seen some bruising encounters this weekend - expect more of the same this afternoon in the west of France.

    Here's to a good one.

    Come on!!!

  • TEAMS:

    La Rochelle: V Rattez; G Lacroix, G Doumayrou, P Aguillon, J Sinzelle; R Lamb, A Bales; D Priso, H Forbes, U Atonio; J Eaton, J Qovu Nailiko; B Veivuke, K Gourdon, V Vito. Replacements: P Bourgarit, M Corbel, V Pelo, W Demotte, R Sazy, J-V Goillot, P Jordaan, E Roudil.

    Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, T Bowe; C Lealiifano, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, W Herbst; K Treadwell, A O’Connor; I Henderson (capt), C Henry, S Reidy. Replacements: R Best, K McCall, R Ah You, R Diack, M Rea, J Cooney, L Marshall, J Stockdale.

    Referee: N Owens (Wales)

  • Les Kiss has gone for an experienced outfit for today's clash - with plenty of defensive ballast to keep the physical French at bay. Indeed, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble have been selected on the wings, with Darren Cave and Stuart McCloskey a physical midfield duo. Jacon Stockdale gave another showing beyond his years in Ulster's opening Pool One win over Wasps, but has to settle for a place on the bench today.
  • 15 mins until kick off!
  • A big result in Leinster's pool - Exeter have won 27-24 away to Montpellier.
  • La Rochelle began their maiden Champions Cup voyage with a 34-27 win at The Stoop last Friday night. Like many of their French counterparts, they're a powerful side - but they are a collective rather than an expensively assembled outfit like much of the Top 14. There is some stardust - particularly former All Black Victor Vito - while flanker Kevin Gourdon was one of the players of the last Six Nations.
  • Today also marks the timely return to the Ulster matchday squad of hooker Rory Best, who is on course to be fit for Ireland's clash with the Springboks on November 11th after battling a hamstring injury.
  • La Rochelle topped the Top 14 table last season, before beaing beaten in the play-offs.

    They currently sit in fourth place after seven games. As noted, this is tough.

  • The teams are in the tunnel - stunning atmosphere at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
  • Ryan Lamb has the ball in hand - and we're underway!
  • 1 min: Lightning start from Ulster. They claim the restart and work the short side where Charles Piutau burst the line and burns up to the halfway line.
  • 2 min: Ulster lineout on halfway and they move it left where Piutau makes another break, skittling La Rochelle defenders like skittles before he's hauled down on the 22. Promising platform for Ulster until Atonio steals it at the breakdown.
  • This has been a breathless start. Ulster possession on halfway but there's a loose pass and La Rochelle are through, with Lamb stepping inside and then passing it back out to monstrous winger Sinzelle who marches over for the score.

    Lamb converts.


  • 6 min: La Rochelle penalty and Lamb finds a good touch inside the Ulster 22. They briefly maul before carrying inside - Ulster do well to slow the ball down under the posts. Escape for Ulster as Owens pings for hosts for going in off their feet -  Lealiifano clears.
  • 8 min: Quick, clean lineout ball for La Rochelle and they move inside - good Ulster linespeed and they earn a turn over. A good kick in behind turns the home defence and Henderson follows up well, scragging fullback Rattez. Ulster have plenty of bodies competing but number nine Bales digs it out and boxkicks to touch outside of the La Rochelle 22.
  • 9 min: Big blow for La Rochelle as outhalf Lamb limps off. Paul Jordaan the replacement.  
  • TRY ULSTER!!!!!!!!
  • Lovely score for Ulster. They get quick, clean lineout ball and move it left with numbers.  Lealiifano takes a deeper ball on the loop from Cave and finds Bowe on the wing, who passes back inside for the Australian outhalf who has a simple finish.

    Lealiifano follows up his try with an excellent conversion.


  • 12 min: Ulster on the front foot now and really pressing the hosts. Piutau gets the ball deep and sees another gap. He steps and makes a good carry before pinning a cute kick inbehind La Rochelle. Cave is there to follow-up and tackle the cover ingoal. Five-metre scrum for Ulster.
  • 13 min: Solid Ulster scrum and Owens awards them a penalty. Ulster opt for the corner.
  • 14 min: O'Connor grabs the lineout with his fingertips and Ulster set the maul, before working it back infield. Marshall is pulling the strings nicely from nine and he works the shortside before dragging la Rochelle back out to their left, where Jordaan makes a try-saving tackle on Piutau. Ulster knock the ball on - but had a penalty advantage for offside.

    Lealiifano will go for goal - it's inside the 22 and to the right of the sticks. He slots it, and Ulster lead.


  • 17 min: Good linespeed from La Rochelle, but  Lealiifano's passing has been perfect so far and Ulster keep hitting the gainline hard. They break over halfway and Marshall changes the point of attack with a beautiful boxkick over his shoulder which scoots out inside the five-metre.
  • 18 min: Good set-piece and exit from La Rochelle. The Ulster lineout then goes loose but they pick up the pieces and start to build the phases again.
  • 21 min: La Rochelle show how dangerous they are on the transition as Veivuke breaks the Ulster line on halfway and carries deep into the visitor's half, finding the offload to Gourdon.
  • 22 min: Disallowed try for La Rochelle! The hosts are piling the pressure on inside the Ulster 22 and move it left, where winger Lacroix runs onto a short ball and crosses the line. They celebrate, but Nigel Owens flags a forward pass straight away.

    Instead, play goes back for a La Rochelle penalty, which number nine Bales slots over.


  • 24 min: After a dominant spell Ulster are having to absorb a lot of punishment now, with La Rochelle's big men consistently making good yards off the shoulder. Jordaan sends a testing grubber in behind which McCloskey is across to cover - but he's dragged into touch.
  • 25 min: La Rochelle go short to Eaton with the lineout and set up the maul. They grind to the five but Ulster hold them up valiantly. La Rochelle then set about hammering away on the fringes, with desperate tackle after desperate tackle form Ulster keeping them short of the line.
  • 27 min: The ball goes forward under the posts as La Rochelle opt for a bit of width - but they have a penalty for offside.

    Bales slots an easy three.


  • 29 min: Botched restart from  Lealiifano fails to go the full 10 - La Rochelle scrum on halfway.
  • 30 min: Huge La Rochelle scrum and they opt to keep the ball in, grinding Ulster down and winning a penalty. The ball is kicked up to the 22, another good chance for the hosts.
  • 31 min: Let off for Ulster as Forbes lineout throw is crooked.
  • 32 min: After the demolition job at the last set-piece this is a huge scrum for Ulster - and it has to be reset twice as they come under a serious squeeze. Next time they are solid though, and can clear.
  • 35 min: Frantic passage as Ulster sneak a turnover in midfield and attack the hosts - before Herring gives it away with a loose offload. La Rochelle are lethal from these positions and they are straight onto the front foot through Veivuke. Ulster are on the back foot until Gourdon can't take an offload on halfway.
  • 37 min: Good Ulster scrum and McCloskey carries up to the 10-metre. Ulster run some phases in midfield before Marshall turns La Rochelle with another excellent kick over his shoulder into the 22.
  • 38 min: Good exit from La Rochelle and Ulster opt to take the lineout quikly. They attack through the middle but the move breaks down as Marshall is obstructed by Bowe and spills it forward at the base.  
  • 39 min: Brilliant line break from Sinzelle and he finds the offload to Doumayrou. Quick ball for La Rochell but a loose pass gives Ulster a reprieve.
  • 40 min: The Ulster scrum is wokring better now and they secure the ball before looking to play their way upfield, McCloskey carrying well. La Rochelle slow it down - Gourdon holding up Henderson. Marshall then makes a brilliant snipe and bursts into the La Rochelle half - but he has no support and is turned over fairly easily.
  • The teams are back out for the second half.

    Lealiifano has the ball in hand, and we're back underway!

  • 41 min: La Rochelle secure the ball and kick to  Lealiifano. He passes back to Piutau who spills forward and is then penalised for holding on. La Rochelle kick the penalty up to the Ulster 22.
  • 42 min: The home pack grind up to the Ulster five-metre. They opt to use some width and McCloskey and Cave do oustandingly well to hold up Sinzelle and turn it into a maul - winning their side a scrum.
  • 44 min: Solid Ulster scrum and  Lealiifano clears as far as fullback Rattez, who carries back. Ulster really under the cosh since the break, with La Rochelle building the phases inside the 22. The scrum-capped duo of Lacroix and then Gourdon both make good carries and the hosts are a yard short.
  • 46 min: La Rochelle are tantalisingly close to the line but Ulster digging very deep. Atonio looks to pierce the red and white wall in the right corner but he is just held up. Side entry from Ulster - La Rochelle penalty.  
  • 47 min: Ulster concede a penalty from the La Rochelle lineout - they're sailing close to the wind now. La Rochelle five-metre scrum - and the feed is called crooked by Owens!
  • 48 min: Good clearance from  Lealiifano - Ulster reprieved, for now.
  • 49 min: La Rochelle secure the ball from the lineout but get bogged down by Ulster. The close exchanges here are absolutely brutal.
  • Having survived that brutal onslaught Ulster concede a try out of nothing. Lacroix counters with a jinking run and finds the offload to Doumayrou, who finds Vito on his shoulder, and the number eight crosses. Ulster have had plenty of warnings.

    Bales converts and the hosts have a two score lead.


  • 54 min: McCloskey does well to scoop up a poor pass on halfway but then undoes his good work with a loose one of his own to Herring. Ulster retain the ball though and are into the La Rochelle 22 - where it takes three players to hold up Piutau. Ulster pressing, but La Rochelle turn it over.
  • 57 min: Disallowed try for La Rochelle! Cooney throws a loose pass in midfield which Doumayrou pounces on and finds Vito, who takes the ball brilliantly and finds Jordaan out on the left wing. He shows a good turn of foot to get over in the corner - but Bowe did enough to drag him into touch before he got the ball down.
  • 58 min: Ulster have been under immense pressure since the start of the second half. Cooney tries to release the pressue but La Rochelle will have a lineout just outside of the five-metre.
  • 58 min: La Rochelle secure the lineout and maul ominously towards the line - they're just about held up and will have a five-metre scrum.
  • It was inevitable. A couple of big Ulster tackles keep Sinzelle at bay, but when La Rochelle recycle back out to the right Gourdon steps inside and has the strength to touch down.

    Bales converts.


  • 61 min: Rory Best comes on for Herring - a nice gentle reintroduction...
  • This is turning into a hiding. La Rochelle have a few phases on the Ulster 10 before recycling left, where lovely deft hands all the way down the line release Aguillon who burns down the left and over.

    Bales slots a tricky conversion.


  • Ulster are urned over on their own five-metre, La Rochelle work the short side and Vito draws his man before finding Eaton on the win and the big seconrdow flops over the whitewash.

    Bales splits the posts again.  


  • 69 min: Ulster earn a penalty in midfield and Marshall builds a bit of momentum with a quick kick over Lacroix and into the corner.
  • TRY ULSTER!!!!!!
  • Fantastic score. Lineout maul for Ulster and then the ball is moved right. A deep pass is played to Piutau who slips one tackle and then hits the outside shoulder before stabbing a cute grubber into the corner for Bowe to run onto and touch down.

    Cooney converts.


  • 72 min: Cooney sends a penalty for an Ulster lineout on halfway. Quick ball for Ulster and Cooney brings Bowe into play with a great pass. Ulster attacking and Piutau slips through Stockdale on the left wing but the home cover is good and he's dragged into touch.
  • 75 min: Piutau gets away with one there. La Rochelle kick deep and he fumbles, allowing the covering Lacroix to nip in - luckily for Ulster he gets white line fever and spills it forward with the try line begging.
  • 77 min: Ulster are pinned right back in their 22 and trying to play their way out of trouble - the La Rochelle line still pressing with huge intensity.
  • 78 min: La Rochelle scrum outside the Ulster 22 and the hosts work the short side well, Roudil making a good snipe down the left. There's an Ulster knock on and they will have another set piece to defend, deep inside thier 22.
  • 80 min: Ulster emerge wiht the ball but then get turned over inside their 22. Last chance for La Rochelle to add insult to injury.

    There's a La Rochelle knock on, and that's yer lot.

  • After hanging on brilliantly in the first half Ulster were dealt a lesson in the second. There's no shame in that defeat though - it wouldn't be a surprise if this La Rochelle side are there or there abouts come the business end of the competition.