Champions Cup: Ulster v La Rochelle

Les Kiss's side can go top of Pool One but face a daunting task against the Top 14 high-flyers

Patrick Madden Sat, Jan 13
 
LIVE: Champions Cup: Ulster v La Rochelle

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  • Good afternoon!

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

    It is a pivotal weekend for the provinces in Europe. Les Kiss's side can't progress into the knockouts today - but they can give themselves a great chance of doing so.

    Victory in Belfast this afternoon would put Ulster top of Pool One with just a final round trip to Wasps to come, but it's going to be a big ask.

    La Rochelle steamrolled Ulster 41-17 when the side's met in France last year, and despite their surprise defeat to Wasps they remain a heavyweight favourite to win the competition.

    An intriguing 80 minutes awaits, and we'll be bringing you all the action from Ravenhill.

    Come on!!!

  • ULSTER: C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Ludik, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; C Black, R Best, R Ah You; A O’Connor, I Henderson; M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney. Replacements: R Herring, K McCall, R Kane, K Treadwell, C Henry, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, D Cave.

    LA ROCHELLE: K Murimurivalu; G Lacroix, G Doumayrou, P Aguillon, V Rattez; J Sinzelle, A Bales; D Priso, P Bourgarit, U Atonio; J Eaton (capt), M Tanguy; B Veivuke, K Gourdon, V Vito. Replacements: J-C Orioli, V Pelo, M Boughanmi, G Lamboley, A Amosa, T Kerr Barlow, B Nobles, P Jordaan.

    Referee: W Barnes (England).

  • Some pre-match reading?

    Gerry Thornley has looked at the state of play across Europe for all four provinces, you can read that HERE.

    And John O'Sullivan has previewed this afternoon's match, you can read that HERE.

  • Christian Lealiifano makes his final Ulster home appearance today as his short-term deal with the province approaches its end. Former All Black and World Cup winner Stephen Donald is expected to replace him in the coming weeks.


    Ulster come into today's game after enduring a mixed festive period, with their New Year's Day win over Munster sandwiched between sobering thumpings at the hands of Connacht and Leinster.

  • Despite their domestic woes Ulster can take control of Pool One today - but in all honesty its hard to see how. La Rochelle currently sit a point off first place in the Top 14 and offer a fearsome blend of expansive running and devastating ball carrying. Victor Vito is among those restored to the visitor's starting XV, while the giant French prop Uini Atonio is likely to make his presence felt a few weeks away from Ireland's Six Nations opener at the Stade de France.
  • Just when you thought Iain Henderson couldn't get any better, he's just been talking about his love of Bruce Springsteen in a pre-match interview. He starts in the secondrow for Ulster and will need to produce a typically immense performance today.
  • 10 mins until kick off!
  • While Ulster could finish the day top of Pool One, defeat here and a win for Wasps away to Harlequins could leave them in third spot. They could also stay where they are in second. All to play for.
  • Here come the teams at a soggy Ravenhill!
  • Sinzelle has the ball in hand, and we're underway!
  • 1 min: Henderson fields the kick and Ulster secure it, running one phase before Cooney clears from the base. First possession for La Rochelle, hooker Bourgarit making two big carries either side of a good Atonio rumble.  
  • 2 min: Ominous signs already - ferocious ball carrying from the visitors. Sinzelle engineers an overlap on the left after a good loop in midfield but the pass goes loose. Some excellent lines of running from La Rochelle. Sinzelle pins Ulster back with a good kick into the corner.
  • 3 min: Best hits his man and Piutau clears - but it's straight to Lacroix. He runs it back but there's a good kick chase from Ulster and Henderson holds him up, winning his side a scrum.
  • 5 min: Solid Ulster set piece and they move it right. Loose ball in midfield and it's cleared again to Lacroix. La Rochelle on the ball again in the middle of the park, plenty of early possession for the visitors.
  • 6 min: Ulster slow the ball down well on halfway but la Rochelle are so dangerous, scrumhalf Bales making a great snipe at the base and finding Atonio.  
  • 7 min: Ulster can't live with the visitors at the moment, hooker Bourgarit is having a stormer. Penalty coming to La Rochelle inside the home 22 - Sinzelle looks to find Rattez on the left wing with a kick but overcooks it.

    La Rochelle will go for goal - and number nine Bales skews the kick over from inside the 22.

    9 MIN: ULSTER 0 LA ROCHELLE 3

  • 10 min: Ulster have possession on the halfway and there's space on the left - but Ludik's pass to the wing is nearly intercepted by Eaton. Injury for the visitors - Lacroix twisted his knee landing after contesting in the air with Piutau. Jordaan replaces him.
  • 11 min: Ulster penalty and they kick for touch on the left but it's short and picked off by Jordaan. He knocks on though and Ulster have a scrum inside the visitor's 22.
  • 12 min: Ulster concede the scrum penalty.  Murimurivalu nudges it into touch.  

    La Rochelle secure the lineout ball and draw another penalty from the resulting maul - and they move further up the Ulster left.

  • 15 min: Bourgarit misses his man at the lineout - but there was an Ulster arm spoiling. A third penalty in quick succession for the visitors - poor from the hosts.

    Bales will go for goal - and he doubles La Rochelle's lead.

    16 MIN: ULSTER 0 LA ROCHELLE 6

  • 17 min:  Murimurivalu fields the restart and finds a good touch on halfway.
  • 17 min: Good lineout ball for Ulster and they move it right - Ludik lined up in midfield by Doumayrou. The hosts retain the ball well but La Rochelle's linespeed is furious and Ulster are being driven back. Lovely ball slipped from McCloskey to Lealifano but La Rochelle quickly shut down the space on the left. Ulster penalty, which is sent to touch on the visitor's 22.
  • 20 MIN: ULSTER 0 LA ROCHELLE 6
  • 20 min: First real attacking platform for Ulster inside the La Rochelle 10 but they lose their momentum when  Lealiifano spills Cooney's pass. They retain the ball but quickly lose territory.  Lealiifano loses it again and Veivuke hacks it upfield.  
  • 22 min: La Rochelle probing and Bales chips a kick into the 22. Piutau leaps to claim it and is played in the air by Jordaan - who is shown a yellow card! That was harsh, the La Rochelle winger didn't really have anywhere to go.
  • 24 min: Best finds Henderson with the resulting lineout and Ulster set the maul - but the La Rochelle pack slow them down and are awarded a scrum.  
  • 25 min: Big La Rochelle scrum and they work the shortside,  Murimurivalu chipping ahead and number eight Timoney having to cover across ingoal. The Ulster restart is straight to Veivuke, who makes a big carry but is stripped by Best. Cooney kicks ahead to turn the visitors, and Ulster then win the ball on the La Rochelle five!
  • 27 min: First glimpse for Ulster, but they're turned over by Gourdon. La Rochelle look to play their way out of the 22, Bales scampering down the blind side, but Ulster slow the ball down and are awarded a penalty. There's a break in play after a clash of heads between Bales and Gilroy.
  • 28 min: Penalty kicked deep into the La Rochelle 22 by  Lealiifano. Huge chance for Ulster.
  • TRY ULSTER!!!!!!!!
  • Best hits his man and Ulster set the maul. A small pod break off and quickly rumble over the line, skipper Best steaming in at the back to take the ball aand touch down. Well taken.

    Cooney with a tricky conversion from out on the right, the wind forces it just wide on the right.

    30 MIN: ULSTER 5 LA ROCHELLE 6

  • 30 min: That was against the run of play, but Ulster are firmly back in this. Errors creeping into La Rochelle's game, Veivuke dropping a simple ball on halfway.  
  • 31 min: Good Ulster scrum and a slick loop from  Lealiifano. He moves it to Piutau who ops to kick ahead. La Rochelle secure the ball deep in their 22 before Bales finds a good touch with a kick from the base.
  • 32 min: Best goes long and Ulster win it, but then Timoney throws a loose pass to kill the momentum. Ulster penalty inside the La Rochelle half though - another good kick deep inside the visitor's 22.
  • 34 min: Best hits Henderson and this time Ulster look to move it, Stockdale coming in off his left wing to take it at first receiver. Ulster building the phases deep inside the La Rochelle 22 - McCloskey with another lovely offload to Cooney.
  • 35 min: Booming carry from Ah You. Ulster have a penalty coming.
  • TRY ULSTER!!!!!!!!
  • Ulster have the advantage coming. Cooney throws a poor pass but Ludik flicks it off the turf to Stockdale on the right wing, and he brushes off the tackle of Rattez to score in the corner. The pass from Ludik looked forward, but the referee is happy with it and doesn't consult the TMO.

    Cooney misses a tricky conversion - Ulster lead.

    37 MIN: ULSTER 10 LA ROCHELLE 6

  • 39 min: La Rochelle looking for a response before the break. They have a scrum on the Ulster 10 but the hosts affect another turnover as McCloskey holds his man up in the tackle. The visitors are rattled.
  • 40 min: Solid Ulster scrum and they move it left to Stockdale who kicks ahead. La Rochelle clear into touch.
  • HT: ULSTER 10 LA ROCHELLE 6
  • Quite a turnaround from Ulster in that half. The early signs were ominous as La Rochelle dominated every collision, but the yellow card for Jordaan offered the hosts a route back into proceedings which they took with aplomb.
  • The teams are back out. Ulster have the wind in what promises to be a huge second half.

    Lealiifano gets us back underway!

  • 41 min: Aguillon fields the kick and La Rochelle move it left, Vito coming into the line on a neat inside ball. Bales kicks but it gets held up in the wind - knocked on by  Lealiifano as he challenegs with Vito in the air.
  • 42 min: Replays show that actually came off Vito and not  Lealiifano, but the visitors have the scrum. Good set piece and they have a penalty advantage. They look to work the short side but Bales pass is behind Rattez and straight into touch.
  • TRY LA ROCHELLE!!!
  • The visitors score out of nowhere. Piutau kicks deep to opposite number  Murimurivalu. He runs it back and is tackled on halfway, where Vito picks up at the base unchallenged. He charges up to the Ulster 22 and pulls the home defence to their right before slipping the ball off to Bales, who scoots over to score. Well taken.

    44 MIN: ULSTER 10 LA ROCHELLE 13

  • TRY ULSTER!!!!!!!!
  • What a response! La Rochelle try to play their way out and Bourgarit forces an offload which goes loose. Cave gets a foot on it and finds Timoney who has the pace and strength to get over the line.

    Cooney converts.

    46 MIN: ULSTER 17 LA ROCHELLE 13

  • 47 min: Great break from Ulster down the left, Piutau finding Stockdale with a stunning offload and he scampers deep into the visitor's half.
  • 48 min: Ulster possession on the La Rochelle 10, probing away and bringing Piutau into play more. Cave finds Ludik on a good line and he bursts up to the visitor's 22, before Henderson makes good yards. Penalty advantage to Ulster. Ludik tries to find Stockdale on the right with a kick but overcooks it.

    Simple chance for Cooney just outside the visitor's 22 and he makes no mistake.

    50 MIN: ULSTER 20 LA ROCHELLE 13

  • 51 min: Ulster secure the ball on their own 22 after good counter-rucking from the visitors.  Lealiifano clears as far as  Murimurivalu who is well tackled by Ludik but manages to get the ball away. La Rochelle up to the Ulster 22 but Best makes a brilliant interception ahead of Murimurivalu and Piutau can clear.    
  • 53 min: Hanging kick from Cooney is well taken by Jordaan. La Rochelle use the width spinning it out to Vito but he gets lined up by Ludik. A few phases later Ludik makes another booming hit on Doumayrou.
  • 55 min: Henderson chops down skipper Eaton in midfield - now it's Ulster who are forcing the visitors back with tremendous linespeed. Mammoth effort.
  • 56 min: Ulster scrum just inside the La Rochelle half. Solid set piece from the visitors though and they are awarded a penalty, which it kicked to touch on the 22.  
  • 58 min: La Rochelle knock on from the lineout but then produce a huge scrum to win another penalty on the 22. The visitors have got the upper hand at the set piece. Bales pins it into the corner.
  • 59 min: Bourgarit hits Tanguy at the front and La Rochelle set the maul. Ulster pinged for coming in from the side and bringing the maul down - Best practising the dark arts. La Rochelle opt for a scrum this time.
  • 60 MIN: ULSTER 20 LA ROCHELLE 13
  • 61 min: La Rochelle put the squeeze on at scrum time but Ulster hold firm. Reset. Another big shunt from the visitors and they have a penalty coming. They play it and Sinzelle kicks, Piutau there to cover and touch down.
  • 62 min: Another La Rochelle scrum, and again they put Ulster under pressure. Vito picks and goes and offloads out of the back of his hand - but there's nobody there. Henderson flops on the loose ball and the hosts hack it clear. Huge let off.
  • 64 min: La Rochelle look to break up the left through Priso but Cooney darts across well to tackle the big prop and force him into touch.
  • 64 min: Four changes made at once by La Rochelle, including a new frontrow. Vito and Atonio both off, they've been marshalled well.
  • 65 min: Cooney turns La Rochelle with a great kick in behind. Jordaan covers and looks to clear up the touchline but he's pounced on by Piutau and cleared out of play. Five-metre scrum for Ulster.
  • 65 min: Ulster have struggled in the scrum but this would be a huge one to win. And win it they do. They probe away on the five but then Henderson spills Cooney's short ball.  
  • 67 min: Ulster back in possession on the La Rochelle 22, running up 10 phases. Good ball retention but the visitors are contesting well at the breakdown and force a penalty.
  • 69 min: La Rochelle's touch finder is short, Ulster have possession again on the visitor's 10-metre. Henderson carries but the support comes in off feet, this time La Rochelle find touch from the penalty.
  • 70 MIN: ULSTER 20 LA ROCHELLE 13
  • 71 min: Ulster drive La Rochelle back from the lineout and the visitors are now in possession on halfway. Nothing coming off for the French side at the moment.
  • 72 min: La Rochelle work their way inside the Ulster 10, but Cave makes a good tackle on the far side on Veivuke and Stockdale latches on over the top to win his side the penalty.  Lealiifano departs and receives a rousing farewell from the Belfast crowd.
  • 74 min: Ulster penalty is kicked to touch and they maul from the lineout, grinding inside the visitor's 22. Good ball retention again, Piutau smashing through one tackle. Replacement McPhillips throws an adventurous pass out to the left wing where Henry just strays into touch.
  • 75 min: Good play from Stockdale, fielding a kick and then forcing his way up to the French 10. Brilliant box kick from Cooney and Ulster have another lineout inside the La Rochelle 22.
  • 77 min: 10 phases for Ulster come to nothing as the ball is knocked on - but the hosts have the territory with the clock ticking down.
  • 78 min: Scrum penalty for La Rochelle and they tap and go quickly, Ulster conceding a penalty on the 22 which is sent to touch just shy of halfway.
  • 79 min: Telescopic arms from Lamboley to take the lineout. La Rochelle keep it short and then move it, McPhillips making a big tackle. Good linespeed from Ulster keeping the visitors inside their own 10.
  • 80 min: Last chance saloon for La Rochelle, but they're still inside deep their own half. There's a glimpse of space for Doumayrou but he's chopped down on halfway. Loose ball from the French - it's gone forward!
  • FT: ULSTER 20 LA ROCHELLE 13
  • A huge win for Ulster - but they will need to produce another big performance away to Wasps in the final round. It says a lot that Ulster will be disappointed not to have scored a fourth try and picked up a bonus point.
  • Right, thanks for joining this afternoon - the match report from Belfast will be live on the Irish Times website shortly.

    Cya!