La Rochelle 41 v 17 Ulster
Ulster succumbed to a heavy defeat against La Rochelle in Pool 1 of the European Champions Cup in the first ever game in the competition at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Ulster had no answer to the French side’s power, pace and superior ball handling skills as they outscored Les Kiss side by five tries to two to take a firm grip on the pool.
La Rochelle top the group with a maximum 10 points from two games while Ulster have four points and face an uphill struggle to reach the knockout stages.
The home side took the lead after three minutes. Ulster were attacking on the half way line when Andrew Trimble flung a pass over Darren Cave’s head which the centre couldn’t take. La Rochelle flanker Nailiko Botia gathered the loose ball and fed Ryan Lamb, the out-half releasing winger Jeremy Sinzelle to go over unopposed. The No10 adding the conversion.
Ulster were level on 10th minutes.
Iain Henderson and Stuart McCloskey had good carries before Darren Cave put width on the ball, Christian Leahi’ifano injected pace down the wing before passing to Tommy Bowe. The Irish winger drew the last defender before popping the ball back inside for the Australian to cross the whitewash and the out half converted his own try.
Leahi’ifano gave Ulster the lead with a 15th minute penalty from in front of the posts following a sustained period of pressure in the home side’s 22.
La Rochelle were denied a second try on 21 minutes when winger Gabriel Lacroix’s touchdown was ruled out as the final pass from full back Vincent Rattez was adjudged forward, however the French side had a penalty advantage and Bales tied the scores from the resulting kick.
Bales nudged La Rochelle back in from on 27 minutes with a simple penalty as Ulster illegally killed the ball on their own try line and that was enough to give the French side a 13-10 lead at the interval.
Former All Black Victor Vito got the home side’s second try on 50 minutes.
John Cooney failed to find touch with a clearance from his own 22, Lacroix started a counter attack and evaded some weak Ulster defensive tackling before offloading to centre Geoffrey Doumayrou and he showed soft hands to put Vito under the posts with Bales converting.
Bowe saved Ulster on 55 minutes, Cooney lost the ball in midfield, Dounmayrou collected the loose ball Vito showed great hands to catch the ball behind his back and put Paul Jordaan clear but Bowe was able to tackle him into touch before he could ground the ball.
Ulster couldn’t stop La Rochelle’s forward power on 59 minutes, from a five metre scrum the pack just punched holes in the Ulster defence before flanker Kevin Gourdon went over from close range.
La Rochelle wrapped their bonus point up three minutes later, the forwards and backs combined with some slick handling which included six passes to put centre Pierre Aguillon over in the corner with Jean-Victor Goillot converting.
Captain Jason Eaton profited from Vito’s ball handling skills on 65 minutes as the No8 put the former All Black lock over for the home side’s fifth try which Goillot converted.
Bowe stemmed the tide with Ulster’s second try on 70 minutes after good work from Charles Piutau with Cooney converting.
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, B Veivuke Botia, K Gourdon V Vito
Replacements: P Bourgarit for Forbes 64 mins, M Corbel for Priso 52 mins , V Pelo, W Demotte, R Sazy for Qovu 65 mins, J Goillot for Bales 62 mins, P Jordaan for Lamb 8 mins, E Roudil for Sinzelle 65 mins
Ulster: C Piutau, A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, T Bowe, C Leahi’ifano, P Marshall C Black, R Herring, Herbst, Treadwell, A O’Connor, I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy
Replacements: R Best for Herring 61 mins, A Warwick for Black 70 mins, R Ah You, for Hebst 52 mins R Diack for O’Connor 55 mins, M Rea, J Cooney fro Leahi’ifano 48 mins, L Marshall, J Stockdale for Trimble 51 mins,
Ref: Nigel Owens (WRU)