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Ulster Rugby face La Rochelle on Saturday with a chance to overtake their Pool 1 rivals, live on Sky Sports. This will be the second meeting between the clubs, with La Rochelle’s victory in Round 2 representing Ulster’s heaviest defeat in Europe since they lost 60-22 in Toulon in Round 5 during the 2014/15 season.
· Ulster lost their last home game against TOP 14 opposition but haven’t lost consecutive games against French sides at the Kingspan since 2000 when they lost to Bourgoin and Toulouse.
· This will be La Rochelle’s first Champions Cup game outside France or England. They have travelled to Ireland once in the Challenge Cup however, losing to Connacht in October 2014 (12-48).
· Ulster have won just 81% of their own lineouts this season, the lowest rate in the competition.
· La Rochelle have a 92% goalkicking success rate this season, the best of any team in the competition, while Ulster’s is 76%.
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Ulster Rugby’s dreams of reaching the knockout stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup received a significant boost on Saturday afternoon as they leapfrogged La Rochelle with a 20-13 victory in front of a raucous Kingspan Stadium crowd.
- Ireland and Ulster captain Rory Best led from the front with 12 carries, six tackles and a try, while Jacob Stockdale and Nick Timoney also graced the scoresheet as hosts kept the race for quarter-final berths wide open with a crucial triumph, as Alexis Bales scored all the points in a losing effort from La Rochelle.
- In the opening quarter La Rochelle dominated possession, territory and the scoreboard as Bales took advantage of Ulster Rugby’s indiscipline to kick the hosts into a six-point lead in a bruising first 20 minutes for the hosts.
- A yellow card for replacement wing Paul Jordaan saw La Rochelle reduced to 14 men and Ulster Rugby seized the initiative as Heineken Man of the Match Best forced his way over the whitewash from a rampant driving maul and all of a sudden the hosts turned the tables as the atmosphere lifted in Belfast.
- Ulster quickly grew into the game and powerful wing Stockdale exhibited his pace and potency as his crossed over in the right corner to give the Irish province a 10-6 half-time lead.
- La Rochelle returned rejuvenated after an uncompromising interval talk from head coach Patrice Collazo and scrum-half Bales raced home a simple try after Victor Vito sliced open the Ulster defence and converted his own score as the tourists regained the advantage.
- It was a lead short-lived, though, as Ulster’s riposte was immediate, with bustling back-row Timoney forcing his way over less than two minutes later as the hosts collected a crucial win to move top of Pool 1 with 17 points, but a losing bonus-point ensured La Rochelle remain just one point behind with Round 6 left to play next weekend.
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