Ulster defeat La Rochelle but miss out on a bonus point in a tightly fought affair that ended 20-13.
Ulster outscored their visitors with Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale getting on the scoreboard in the first half while Nick Timoney added a third at the start of the second. Alexis Bales was La Rochelle’s sole try scorer.
La Rochelle raced out of the blocks early on and Vincent Rattez had two wonderful chances which would have given the game a different complexion. With eight minutes gone, La Rochelle were breaking the defensive line and converted a penalty to leave the score 3-0.
Two consecutive penalties brought the visitors into range and another at the lineout extended the away lead to 6 points. Worryingly, Ulster had no possession inside the La Rochelle 10m line in the first 15 minutes. In fact, Ulster’s longest period of play resulted them in losing 30 metres. Paul Jordaan was harshly shown a yellow card for taking Charles Piutau out in the air midway through the first half.
Ulster got on the score sheet with 28 minutes gone in the first half. Christian Lealiifano nudged a penalty into the La Rochelle 22m line and a driving maul rolled over and Rory Best emerged from the bottom of it with the ball. John Cooney missed the conversion but it brought Ulster to within one point in a game which was going against Ulster.
That try swung the pendulum in Ulster’s favour. Ulster continued to press and were helped by La Rochelle’s over eager defence. Ulster carefully constructed the play and worked it into the 22m line. Jacob Stockdale broke the weak tackle of Vincent Rattez and powered over the line for Ulster’s second try.
La Rochelle took the lead two minutes into the second half. A defensive switch off from Ulster at the breakdown allowed Victor Vito a line break. Alexis Bales was on hand to create a two-on-one against Lealiifano and finished well. Ulster bounced back immediately. Darren Cave intercepted a loose pass and Nick Timoney was on hand to power over.
Ulster cranked up the pressure and put the visitors on the back foot. Rodney Ah You, Iain Henderson and Callum Black stepped up in the ball carrying facet which in turn created space for Charles Piutau, Darren Cave and Jacob Stockdale in the wide channels.
Not only was the pressure cranked up but so w\s the physicality. Louis Ludik, who moved to the right wing upon the replacing of Craig Gilroy, put in two great hits to stunt the momentum of the away side. La Rochelle found some domination in their scrum, which won them two penalties.
With 15 minutes to go Ulster had field position but a series of one off ball carriers, allowed La Rochelle successive penalties with gave them momentum. In the first half, the visitors were comfortably getting over the gain line however in the second half, Ulster’s excellent defence prevented the away side stringing any dangerous phases together. Jacob Stockdale popped up with an excellent turnover to relieve pressure.
The fourth try eluded Ulster, but they ground out a tough-fought win which sends them to the top of the pool. Rory Best and Iain Henderson led from the front with the former receiving the man of the match award. The pack fronted up in the second half and the ball carriers continually made yards. A mention must go to the much maligned Rodney Ah You. The former Connacht man carried hard and helped change the dynamic of the game with strong defence.
It was pleasing to see Ulster adopt a pacey defensive line. It paid off as La Rochelle struggled to move the ball to their players on the flanks, something which Ulster really struggled to defend in the first leg between the sides. Ulster targeted the ball in contact through Stuart McCloskey in midfield which held the ball up allowing the supporting players to win the scrum.
The most important thing for Ulster now is that they build on this performance. Despite an average season to date, they now have the platform to make it a memorable one. We’ve seen Ulster produce a great performance but then back it up with a poor loss. With a potential quarter final spot on the line next week against Wasps, Ulster have no margin for error.
Ulster: Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Rodney Ah You, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Photo credit – Ian Humes Photography
Despite a wobbly start, Ulster pulled together to seal the victory.
In the forwards, Rory Best led from the front while Rodney Ah You, Callum Black, Nick Timoney and Iain Henderson carried strongly. Best and Chris Henry, when he came on, were a nightmare at the break down for La Rochelle.
Darren Cave helped sure up a nervy backline defensively when he came on and supplied the pass to Timoney for his try. John Cooney expertly closed out the game and marshalled the forwards superbly. Stuart McCloskey was excellent in defence and turned ball over with the choke tackle. Jacob Stockdale put in a performance that we've grown accustomed to.
- Callum Black
- Rory Best
- Rodney Ah You
- Alan O'Connor
- Iain Henderson
- Matthew Rea
- Sean Reidy
- Nick Timoney
- John Cooney
- Christian Lealiifano
- Jacob Stockdale
- Stuart McCloskey
- Louis Ludik
- Craig Gilroy
- Charles Piutau
- Rob Herring
- Kyle McCall
- Ross Kane
- Kieran Treadwell
- Chris Henry
- Dave Shanahan
- Johnny McPhillips
- Darren Cave