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Clock-in-red try breaks Ulster hearts at weather-hit La Rochelle

By PA
(Photo by Xavier Leoty/AFP via Getty Images)

Ulster suffered Heineken Champions Cup heartbreak after a last-minute La Rochelle try gave the holders a 7-3 victory at Stade Marcel Deflandre. Nathan Doak had kicked a 63rd-minute penalty to put Ulster ahead but the French side snatched it at the end as replacement prop Joel Sclavi crashed over from a driving lineout.

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Antoine Hastoy landed the conversion and Ulster will feel hard done by following a heroic defensive display. Ulster produced an impressive performance and adapted to the driving wind and rain better than their hosts and had two first-half tries ruled out.

The visitors had lost their previous two games against Sale Sharks and La Rochelle at home in Pool B and were playing for pride on French soil. Coach Dan McFarland made eight changes to the side that lost 31-29 to Benetton in the United Rugby Championship last week.

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The Ulster boss was forced to make another change when Ben Moxham was drafted in to replace Billy Burns on the bench just before kick-off. The first game between the two sides was controversially switched to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and played behind closed doors after Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium pitch was deemed unplayable the day before the game.

The tough conditions in France were evident after Hastoy’s early low penalty into the wind was held up and hit the post. Scrum-half Doak’s attempted penalty for Ulster from deep inside his own half then fell just short to demonstrate how strong the wind was at his back.

Flanker Nick Timoney looked to have scored the game’s first try for Ulster but dropped the ball before he crashed over the home side’s line. Wing Rob Lyttle suffered the same fate after he appeared to score a try but it was ruled out for a knock-on earlier in the move, leaving Ulster having crossed the whitewash twice with both scores ruled out and the score 0-0 at half-time.

After the break, the home side adapted better to the weather but the game was still dominated by the conditions with little rugby played by either side. Doak landed his Ulster penalty just after the hour mark when La Rochelle were penalised to give the Belfast side a lead, but they were denied right at the end when prop Sclavi crossed for the vital try.

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