La Rochelle underlined their European Champions Cup title credentials by thrashing last season’s quarter-finalists Wasps 49-29 at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
The French outfit were utterly relentless in the first half, scoring three converted tries via Pierre Aguillon, Pierre Bourgarit and Levani Botia. Brock James also kicked three penalties as Patrice Collazo’s men took a comfortable advantage into the interval.
Dai Young’s side had little answer to the power, tempo and skill level of the hosts, even if they initially responded to their opponents’ brilliance through Rob Miller and Thomas Young efforts.
If their director of rugby had expected a response from his charges in the second period, it failed to materialise as Vincent Rattez scored the home team’s fourth try.
Rattez added his second later on but Wasps managed to rescue a bonus-point with Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson and Will Stuart going over.
However, the dominant outfit in Pool 1 deservedly had the final word when Botia scampered clear.
La Rochelle are the current leaders of the Top 14 and Collazo’s team showed why on Sunday afternoon, displaying a range of skills and ambition that no team in Europe can match.
They were superb from the kick-off, almost going the length of the field, before outstanding youngster Thomas Jolmes was tackled into touch.
It was a sign of things to come but their bright start was only rewarded with a James’ penalty after Young had been sin-binned for a tip tackle. Instead, the visitors hit back with a well-worked move which resulted in Miller crossing the whitewash for a 5-3 advantage.
That score failed to prevent the La Rochelle juggernaut, however, as Danny Cipriani’s attempted clearance kick was pounced on by Aguillon, who touched down.
Another Wasps’ mistake then resulted in the hosts’ second try when a botched lineout allowed Bourgarit to go clear. Although the hooker was taken down just short of the line, the 20-year-old picked himself up and scored from close range.
Young’s excellent finish gave the English outfit hope but they were simply outclassed throughout and, after Botia had re-established their 12-point buffer, successive James three-pointers meant that the away side had it all to do in the second half.
Any hopes of a comeback were duly extinguished almost immediately through some intelligent play by scrum-half Alexi Bales. He allowed Daly to commit before feeding Victor Vito, who off-loaded to Rattez to score.
The England back did get some revenge by crossing the whitewash, but the wing’s opposite number went over for La Rochelle’s fifth.
To their credit, the visitors continued to battle and secured a try bonus-point when Simpson and Stuart touched down, but Botia scored late on to rubberstamp the French team’s victory.
For La Rochelle:
Tries: Aguillon, Bourgarit, Botia 2, Rattez 2
Cons: James 3, Lamb 2
Pens: James 3
Tries: Miller, Young, Daly, Simpson, Stuart
Cons: Gopperth 2
Yellow Cards: Young, de Jongh
Ulster climbed to second place in their pool after they beat Harlequins 17-5 in a Champions Cup game played out in the snow on Sunday.
Jacob Stockdale’s try and John Cooney’s boot saw Ulster to the four points as they overtake Wasps, who lost at La Rochelle at the same time.
The weather didn’t help the game in terms of tries at Twickenham Stoop with only one crossing, coming in the 26th minute from wing Stockdale.
Cooney’s sixth minute penalty after Harlequins were caught offside moved Ulster into a 3-0 lead but he was off-target in the 20th minute, as both sides struggled with the slippery ball. In between those attempts, Harlequins lost their flanker, Chris Robshaw, following a head collision.
Ulster’s try came from a superb break from scrum-half Cooney before he offloaded to Stockdale who did the rest, making it an 8-0 advantage.
And that’s how things were going into the break as Quins were struggling to replicate their form of last weekend that saw them beat Saracens.
Harlequins weren’t helped by Danny Care failing his own HIA but did get on the board in the 51st minute when prop Kyle Sinckler went over from two metres out. That score was unconverted so Ulster’s lead was three points at 8-5 before Cooney struck on the hour for 11-5.
Cooney was on the board again in the 69th minute to extend his side’s lead to nine, crucially over the one-score margin as time ticked on.
And he secured the win with one minute left when a high tackle on Ross Kane allowed the scrum-half to kick his fourth penalty of the contest.
Pens: Cooney 4