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O'Gara's La Rochelle hold off Ulster comeback in Dublin

By PA
Duane Vermeulen - PA

Antoine Hastoy scored 26 points as La Rochelle made it two wins from two in Pool B of the European Champions Cup, holding firm to beat Ulster 36-29 in a remarkable game at the Aviva Stadium.

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Ulster were trailing 29-0 at half-time but hit back and claimed two points, falling just short of denying the reigning champions victory in a game played behind closed doors in Dublin after the Kingspan Stadium pitch in Belfast was deemed unplayable on Friday evening.

Brice Dulin and Pierre Bourgarit also scored tries for Ronan O’Gara’s side, with Hastoy also claiming a touchdown as well as three conversions and five penalties.

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Skipper Iain Henderson, John Cooney, Duane Vermeulen and Tom Stewart crossed for Ulster, with Cooney kicking two conversions and a late penalty.

Hastoy opened the scoring for La Rochelle with a penalty after just four minutes. Ulster were caught offside and the French side’s out-half slotted another three-pointer after 14 minutes.

Hastoy slotted his third penalty four minutes later after Ulster again infringed.

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Shortly afterwards, skipper Henderson was penalised at a breakdown leading to Hastoy missing the shot at goal from distance.

It got worse for Ulster, who overthrew a lineout and following Bourgarit’s charge downfield, Henderson was yellow-carded by Luke Pearce at the breakdown and Hastoy slotted another three points to put La Rochelle 12-0 in front.

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La Rochelle struck after winning yet another penalty in the 28th minute. Hastoy put a ball in behind Ulster’s defence and Dulin got the touchdown in the corner. The try was superbly converted.

Another penalty from Hastoy after 38 minutes was rapidly followed up by the La Rochelle 10 scoring a try a minute later which came from a mix-up in Ulster’s midfield.

Hastoy put a kick through and the bounce eluded Cooney, gifting the score to the La Rochelle out-half. His straightforward conversion ended the half with O’Gara’s side leading 29-0.

The second half started with Ulster winning a penalty, running it and Henderson touched down near the posts which allowed Cooney to convert.

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La Rochelle hit back after more poor discipline from Ulster led to a lineout in the 22, and though Alan O’Connor stole the throw, Bourgarit got possession for a soft score. Hastoy also converted to take the lead to 36-7.

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Ulster then came back just before the hour when Cooney dived over from close range, the scrum-half converting after Jonathan Danty was yellow-carded.

The Irish province now began to bring some energy to their game and Vermeulen got on the end of Stuart McCloskey’s kick after 62 minutes for Ulster’s third touchdown which went unconverted.

Stewart then deservedly claimed Ulster’s bonus-point try after 73 minutes from a driving maul which Cooney converted to close La Rochelle’s lead to 10.

With the clock in red, Cooney kicked a penalty to bring Dan McFarland’s side a losing bonus point along with their try bonus.

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