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Ross Ford has admitted that the chance to bag a place in a home Challenge Cup final at BT Murrayfield on Friday, 12 May, will be a huge motivating factor for Edinburgh Rugby when they host La Rochelle in the opening European quarter-final.
The fact Ford and his team mates will be returning to the home of Scottish rugby for the clash with the TOP 14 leaders will be another boost for them. They have already beaten Harlequins and Stade Francais Paris at the venue this season.
“Playing for a home final is a massive thing for us. It is great to have the final in Edinburgh, but we have a few games to go before that,” said Ford, who will be making his 74th European appearance this weekend.
“Reaching the final is definitely something that is doable. We did it two years ago, so there isn’t anything that will stop us this time, as long as we put the work in prior to the game.”
Interim coach Duncan Hodge was left with plenty to ponder on after his side slipped to a fifth successive PRO12 defeat against the Scarlets last weekend. But home is certainly where the heart is for Edinburgh when it comes to European competition having won their last 11 home ties in the Challenge Cup.
They also have a good success rate against French clubs, with nine wins in their last 12 outings against TOP 14 opposition. But La Rochelle, who are 11 points clear at the top of the table in France, are playing some of their best rugby and are keen to reach the semi-finals for the first time in their history.
“We have a lot we can work on after the Scarlets game but we have something big to focus on. In Europe, we have played pretty well at home and got some good results, so we can take confidence from that,” said Ford.
“We will go into the game against La Rochelle with a plan to really take them on. They are going well in the TOP 14, they have big pack, have some exciting players in their team and it will be a great challenge for us – but something we will look forward to.
“We beat Harlequins home and away in the pool stages and to beat a good team like that does give us confidence. We just have to perform for the full 80 minutes.”
- The two clubs have never met before in European competition.
- Edinburgh have reached the quarter-final stage of the competition for the second time in the last three seasons. In 2015 they made the final before losing to Gloucester.
- This is the second time La Rochelle have reached the knockout stage of the Challenge Cup. The current TOP 14 leaders lost in the quarter-final to ASM Clermont Auvergne in 2011.
- Edinburgh have won their last 11 home games in the tournament.
- La Rochelle have picked up just two wins in their last nine games (L7) on the road, however, this is their first fixture on Scottish soil.
- Edinburgh have registered nine wins in their last 12 Challenge Cup matches against TOP 14 opposition (L3).
- La Rochelle had the best tackle success rate in the pool stage (92%), missing an average of just 7.8 tackles per game.
- Edinburgh averaged 8.3 turnovers won per game in the pool stage – the best rate in the tournament.
- Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis made more tackles (73/79) than any other player in the pool stage of the Challenge Cup this season, and also won the most lineouts (46, incl. steals).
- Jason Eaton stole more opposition line-outs (6) than any other player in the pool stage, and the La Rochelle skipper also scored two tries.
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La Rochelle are still on for a possible Challenge Cup and TOP 14 double after making it 13 wins in a row in all competitions, and seven on the bounce on the road, with a 32-22 win at BT Murrayfield.
Six weeks out from the European Final Weekend in the Scottish capital the French side bagged themselves a home semi-final against either Gloucester Rugby or Cardiff Blues and must now fancy their chances of returning to the home of Scottish rugby on Friday, 12 May.
They came into the game with a huge lead in the TOP 14 and brim full of confidence. They soaked up the first few minutes of home pressure before exploding into action via their driving line-out.
Twice in the space of six minutes hooker Jeremie Maurouard was propelled over the Edinburgh line and Brock James, who started the game when Zach Holmes pulled up lame in the warm-up, converted both to make it 14 points in as many minutes.
Edinburgh were all at sea in the opening quarter, but they managed to settle the ship with a great try on the wide outside by centre Phil Burleigh which Jason Tovey converted. That got them a toe-hold in the game, but La Rochelle hit back almost straight away.
French back row star Kevin Gourdon tied in two defenders and when teenage scrum half Arthur Retiere picked up five metres in from touch with 60 metres in front of him it didn’t look as though there was another try in the offing.
But the France Under 20 international raced away from the first line of defence, bamboozled Blair Kinghorn on the Edinburgh 22 and then sped way to the corner.
It was a sensational score and later in the half he made the break that led to a try at the posts for wing Steeve Barry to create a 19 point gap. The next score was vital for Edinburgh and on the stroke of half-time the veteran Ross Ford crashed over in the corner after a front of the line peel to make it 26-12 at the break.
There were obviously some strong words in the Edinburgh dressing room at half-time because they came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half and grabbed the next score with a try from Heineken Man of the Match Hamish Watson. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne added the conversion and suddenly it was anyone’s game.
The gap was cut to a single score on 65 minutes when replacement prop Lekso Kaulashvili picked up a yellow card and Duncan Hodge kicked the penalty. Now it was the home side who had their tails up, but they still lacked the accuracy needed to make La Rochelle pay.
In the end, two penalties from the experienced James saw La Rochelle home and put them into their first European semi-final. The Challenge Cup went to Montpellier last year – will it stay in France for another season?
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