Bristol Bears assistant coach Conor McPhillips described 2018 Champions Cup quarter-finalists La Rochelle as “not your average French team” before their meeting in the European Rugby Challenge Cup on Saturday at Ashton Gate. 

La Rochelle overpowered Enisei-STM in both their opening Challenge Cup matches, leaving them top of Pool 4 with ten points, four ahead of Bristol Bears, who traded home victories with Zebre Rugby Club in their first two outings.  

The French side have plenty of Champions Cup pedigree, winning plaudits for their delightful attacking rugby last season, when they topped Pool 1, before being beaten 30-19 by Scarlets in Llanelli at the quarter-final stage. 

“They love to throw the ball around,” McPhillips told Bristol’s website. “They’ve got a good back three and half-backs, including Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who has played for the All Blacks. 

“So, I think they are slightly different to your average French team. They’re still massive, but I think they play with a lot more ball in hand, so that is a big focus for us.” 

The former Connacht Rugby assistant coach revealed that the Bears would have several players back in contention for this weekend’s match after returning from injury. 

“The key thing is that some guys have come off a tough block of Premiership games and they’ll get their legs minded a little bit,” he said. 

“And we’ve got a good group of injured guys coming back into contention, so they’ve been reintegrated into training and will be up for selection.”