RUGBY: Ulster defeat La Rochelle to go top of Pool One in Europe

Ulster's Nick Timoney goes over for a try against La Rochelle
Ulster's Nick Timoney goes over for a try against La Rochelle


Ulster moved top of Pool One in the European Champions Cup with another famous Belfast victory over French opposition.

Start of the day Pool leaders La Rochelle had come to Kingspan Stadium seeking to secure their place in the last eight of Europe, but they met a dogged Ulster side who put some poor recent performances behind them in the Guinness PRO14 to secure another Top 14 scalp.

The French picked up a losing bonus point - which could still prove curcial in next Sunday's final round of games - but for now Ulster hold a one point advantage from the French going into what will be a dramatic weekend.

La Rochelle had dominated the first quarter, but Ulster had defended well and the French were restricted to two penalties from scrumhalf Alexi Bales on eight and 16 minutes.

Ulster worked hard to get field position in spite of the gale in their faces, but a serries of penalties at scrum time allowed the visitors some easy ground gain.

Jacob Stockdale goes over for a try against La Rochelle

Jacob Stockdale goes over for a try against La Rochelle

Then, with a penalty to come, La Rochelle Bales punted over a crossfield kick for replacement winger Paul Jordaan, Charles Piutau gathered and Jortdaan was deemed to have tackled dangerously and was sent to the bin on 23 minutes.

It provided an opportunity for the hosts and although they had to soak up some further Rochelle pressure, eventually they put a strong of phases together. A penalty to touch saw the lineout secured and the driving maul took control, captain Rory Best going over. John Cooney missed the extras from wide on the right..

The home tails were up now and just a minute after the sin-bin ended they took the lead for the first time, Jacob Stockdale doing remarkably well to finish 12 phases and score in the corner. Again Cooney failed from the touchline with the conversion.

I making it 10-6, Ulster had also crossed the 3000 points in Europe threshold.

It was important Ulster maintained the authority they now had on the game at the start of the second half, but two minutes in it was the visitors who nosed ahead 13-10 after scrumhalf Bales converted his own try.

But Ulster nit back almost immediately, a La Rochelle error 10m from their own line was pounced on by Darren Cave, on as a first half replacement for Craig Gilroy, and he popped gthe ball into the path of number eight Nick Timoney to go over under the posts, Cooney adding the extras.

Cooney made it 20-13 after 49 minutes with a penalty.

Ulster found themselves under the cosh, La Rochelle's scrum encamped on their line, but the visitors could find no way through and two successive turnovers from Ulster saw them relieve the pressue.

Further pressure from Piutau and Best had la Rochelle in all sorts of problems in thier own in-goal area, but after a number of phases from a scrum, Ulster knocked-on and the chance of a crucial try scoring bonus point was gone.