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Rampant La Rochelle ignite title defence with demolition of Leicester

By PA
La Rochelle's Australian lock Will Skelton attempts to break away from Leicester Tigers' English number eight Kyle Hatherell during the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4 rugby union match between Stade Rochelais (La Rochelle) and Leicester Tigers at The Marcel-Deflandre Stadium in La Rochelle, western France on January 14, 2024. (Photo by XAVIER LEOTY / AFP) (Photo by XAVIER LEOTY/AFP via Getty Images)

Leicester were unable to capitalise on a two-man second-half advantage as they succumbed to a heavy 45-12 defeat to Champions Cup holders La Rochelle at a sold-out Stade Marcel Deflandre.

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The previously unbeaten Tigers were outscored seven tries to two by a La Rochelle side seeking their first win in Pool D, with George Martin and Dan Kelly crossing for the visitors and Jamie Shillcock adding a conversion.

For the two-time reigning champions, centre UJ Seuteni and wing Teddy Thomas each scored twice, with Pierre Bourgarit, Will Skelton and Joel Sclavi also touching down. Antoine Hastoy successfully slotted over the extras on five occasions.

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The French powerhouses were reduced to 13 men after Skelton and Jonathan Danty were sent to the sin bin within a minute of each other early in the second period, but La Rochelle still managed to assert their dominance and keep themselves in contention for a last-16 berth.

Leicester came into the match following back-to-back victories against Stormers and Stade Francais, while La Rochelle began their afternoon still in search of a first victory of the campaign following losses to Stormers and Leinster.

Bourgarit opened the scoring with a fifth-minute try on an afternoon that also saw the hosts welcome back captain Gregory Alldritt for his first cup appearance of the season.

La Rochelle had two tries on the board before Martin crossed the whitewash for the Tigers’ first score after 38 minutes, which Shillcock converted.

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Leicester, who had failed to capitalise on La Rochelle lock Ultan Dillane’s first-half spell in the sin bin, were also unable to score a single point throughout the two-man advantage when Skelton was sent off in the 50th minute before Danty quickly followed.

And by the time Kelly added a 79th-minute consolation it was too little too late for Leicester, who next face Pool 4 leaders Leinster, while La Rochelle travel to Sale where the winner will be guaranteed a place in the knockout stage.

Investec Champions Cup

Pool 1
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Lyon
3
2
1
0
12
2
Bordeaux
2
2
0
0
10
3
Bulls
3
2
1
0
10
4
Saracens
2
1
1
0
5
5
Bristol
3
1
2
0
5
6
Connacht
3
0
3
0
1
Pool 2
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Toulouse
3
3
0
0
15
2
Bath
3
3
0
0
15
3
Harlequins
3
2
1
0
10
4
Ulster
3
1
2
0
5
5
Racing 92
3
0
3
0
3
6
Cardiff Rugby
3
0
3
0
2
Pool 3
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Northampton
3
3
0
0
14
2
Exeter Chiefs
3
3
0
0
13
3
Munster
3
1
1
1
8
4
Glasgow
3
1
2
0
5
5
Bayonne
3
0
2
1
3
6
Toulon
3
0
3
0
2
Pool 4
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Leinster
3
3
0
0
14
2
Stormers
3
2
1
0
9
3
Leicester
3
2
1
0
9
4
La Rochelle
3
1
2
0
7
5
Sale
3
1
2
0
5
6
Stade Francais
3
0
3
0
1
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Flankly 10 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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