French league leader’s Montpellier were unsuccessful in their bid to reach the Champions Cup semi-finals thanks to a formidable La Rochelle side, who were able to edge past their Top 14 rivals 31-19.
The home team were able to shake off their 23-16 loss to Toulouse last week and continue their European win streak minus Jonathan Danty, who was originally pencilled in to make his return to the side but had to pull out due to injury.
The loss of the international centre mas made up for by a fearsome performance from the home pack, a solid kicking performance by Ihaia West and tries from Dany Priso, Victor Vito and Levani Botia in the Champions Cup quarter-final.
La Rochelle dominated the first half but Montpellier were able to work their way back into the game in the second, resulting in a narrow loss for the visitors after scores from Henry Thomas, Yvan Reilhac and Zach Mercer.
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La Rochelle started strongly with their first score coming after just 13 minutes thanks to a basketball-esque offload from Botia. That allowed Jules Favre and Vito to make breaks down the left flank, and the move was finished by prop Priso.
The dominant opening from the hosts continued with a scrum penalty, giving fly-half West the chance to extend their lead to 10 after he nailed his first conversion, which he capitalised on
Shorty after, a fantastic territorial kick from Jeremy Sinzille found touch near the Montpellier 22 triggering a lineout in the 20th minute which La Rochelle were able to steal mid-air.
A penalty advantage, caused by returning number eight Mercer not rolling away, gave the home team the freedom to open up their attack, leading to a VVito try in the bottom right of the pitch, prompting thunderous chants for the openside from the stands.
Montpellier responded six minutes later with their first points of the day as Thomas burrowed over after Guilhem Guirado came close on the first attempt at the line.
Louis Foursans-Bourdette slotted the conversion to keep it at a mere five misses from the tee all season.
With just two minutes to go in the first half, La Rochelle almost scored their third as Vito’s one handed scoop on the left wing was eventually knocked on to end the spur of momentum.
The visitors made a quick start after the interval, with Reilhac scooping up a fumbled high ball caused by a miscommunication between Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Pierre Bourgarit for a converted try.
With their lead diminished to three, La Rochelle struck back as Vito’s between-the-legs pass gave the hosts room to advance the ball down the right hand side.
This move finished with a fantastic effort in the corner by Botia in the 47th minute to replenish their lead to eight points.
The visitors managed to remain in contention, however, as scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue and Mercer combined for a score after the scrum-half seized on a loose ball which the back-rower dotted down for Montpellier.
But in the space of four minutes, West nailed two crucial penalties to make the score 28-19, helping Ronan O’Gara’s side to pull away once more after Montpellier’s fightback.
The nail in the coffin for the visitors was the penalty they gave up in the 77th minute, allowing the home side to all but seal victory with yet another successful West three-pointer.
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The article Champions Cup: La Rochelle take down domestic leaders Montpellier appeared first on Planetrugby.com.