LA ROCHELLE 41 ULSTER 17
La Rochelle produced a quality second half performance to literally blow Ulster away and put them in a commanding position in Pool One of the European Champions Cup on Sunday.
Ulster trailed 13-10 at the break after an impressive first half display as they matched the Frenchmen physically and mentally.
But it was one-way traffic in the second half as the French Top 14 side powered to consecutive bonus points wins in their first taste of Champions Cup rugby.
Andrew Trimble made history by running out for his 222nd Ulster appearance, setting a new all-time capped record for the Province.
And Ulster started positively with Charles Piutau setting up two solid attacks, but a poor pass from Trimble was fumbled by Darren Cave, and the French side showed why they are so dangerous in transition, going in for a try through winger Jérémy Sinzelle, converted by outhalf Ryan Lamb for a 7-0 lead after three minutes.
Lamb was forced off with injury replaced by Paul Jordaan.
Ulster hit back immediately a lovely backline movement involving Darren Cave, Christian Leali'ifano and Tommy Bowe, which resulted in outhalf Leali'ifano crossing and converting to level the score.
La Rochelle almost capitalised on another Ulster error, but the scramble defence was there.
A penalty from Leali'ifano nudged Ulster 10-7 ahead, but the French went in at the break leading 13-10 with two goals from scrumhalf Alexi Bales
Ulster defened heroically at the start of the second half, denying the hosts continually.
John Cooney replaced Chrsitian Leali'ifano at outhalf, but it was his poor clearance kick which resulted in La Rochelle getting their second try of the game.
Gabriel Lacroix launched the counter attack, Geoffrey Doumayrou took it on and a great offload sent Victor Vito in for the try converted by Bales.
A great tackle from Tommy Bowe denied Jordaan a try in the corner and as Robbie Diack came on to make his 200th apperance, his first job was to help deny La Rochelle another try from a driving maul - the visitors now being suffocated by the French.
But the French stormed into a 41-10 lead with further tries from Kevin Gourdon, Pierre Aguillon, James Eaton and conversions from Bale and Jean-Victor Goillot had them 41-10 ahead.
Ulster rallied slightly and Tommy Bowe went in for a try, converted by Cooney as they searched in vain for a losing bonus point.
La Rochelle: Rattez; Lacroix, Doumayrou, Aguillon, Sinzelle; Lamb, Bales; Priso, Forbes, Atonio; Eaton, Qovu Nailiko, Botia, Gourdon, Vito.
Replacements: Bourgarit (Forbest 64), Corbel (Priso 52), Pelo (Atonio 56), Demotte (Eaton 67), Sazy (Nailiko 67), Goillot (Bales 60), Jordaan (Lamb 8), Roudil (Sinzelle 67)
Ulster: Piutau; Trimble, Cave, McCloskey, Bowe; Lealiifano, Marshall; Black, Herring, Herbst; Treadwell, O’Connor; Henderson (capt), Henry, Reidy.
Replacements: Best (Herring 61), Warwick (Black 70), Ah You (Herbst 52), Diack (O’Connor 56), Rea (Reidy 67), Cooney (Leali’ifano 47), Marshall, Stockdale (Cave 64).