Gloucester came from behind to overcome La Rochelle 33-20 in Round 2 of the European Challenge Cup
The Cherry and Whites led 19-13 at half-time thanks to Ben Morgan’s try and a fantastic kicking display from Greig Laidlaw
Julien Audy’s try plus eight points from the tee via Fabien Fortassin kept the French hosts in the game
La Rochelle took the lead early in the second half through Jason Eaton’s converted score
Late tries from Steve McColl and Charlie Sharples, converted by Billy Twelvetrees ensured the Cup holders returned to Kingsholm with the win
European Challenge Cup holders Gloucester were forced to work hard as they came from behind in France to snatch the win from La Rochelle thanks to two late tries in an end-to-end affair on Thursday night.
The clash was the first rugby match to be played in France since last Friday night’s attacks in Paris with the La Rochelle fans coming out in force to show their togetherness during a spine-tingling minute silence before creating a vibrant atmosphere throughout the game.
Greig Laidlaw’s 14 points from the tee combined with Ben Morgan’s try meant Gloucester held a 19-13 lead at half-time. La Rochelle’s tally was made up of Julien Audy’s try plus two penalties and conversion from fly-half Fabien Fortassin.
The French hosts then took the lead soon after the restart thanks to Jason Eaton’s try, which was converted by Fortassin.
La Rochelle held their narrow advantage heading into the last closing stages. However, late tries from Steve McColl and Charlie Sharples, which were both converted by Billy Twelvetreees ensured the Cup holders would head back to Kingsholm with the win.
It was the visitors who initially opened the scoring after just two minutes as Laidlaw struck the ball sweetly between the posts from the tee, but the hosts leveled three minutes later when Fly-half Fortassin responded with a penalty goal of his own, 3-3.
Gloucester regained their lead almost instantly as big number 8 Ben Morgan touched down the game’s first try just a minute later. The England back-row spotted a gap before falling short but was able to reach the line and force the ball down. Scrum-half Laidlaw converted to give the visitors a seven-point lead.
The hosts though would get their opening try soon after through their influential scrum-half Julien Audy. The 30-year-old maverick received a pin-point pass from Eliott Roundil before with a swivel of the hips he darted through the visitors defence to touch down to the left of the posts. Fortassin then kicked the simple conversion to bring the hosts level once again, 10-10.
Laidlaw though took advantage of La Rochelle’s indiscipline to kick three penalties before the break to give the Cherry and Whites a nine-point lead.
Fortassin though, with the last kick of the half, fired over his second penalty to close the gap to six points, 13-19.
La Rochelle got in front for the first time just after the restart with a converted score. Some excellent free-flowing rugby had stretched the Gloucester defence before an incredible cross-kick was collected and touched down by Eaton with Fortassin converting to give Rochelle a narrow one point lead.
Gloucester then knocked on the door with no reward for a long period but eventually went over for their second try after 72 minutes when McColl dived over following some slick passing from the Cherry and Whites backs. The referee went to the TMO before awarding the try with Twelvetrees stepping up to add the extras confidently, 20-26.
Wing Sharples then wrapped the win up for Cup holders as he made a break from just inside his own half, drifting from left to right, sailing past two or three defenders before with a La Rochelle player on his back he bundled over the line, grounding the ball successfully in the process. Twelvetrees converted to open up a 13-point gap, which they would hold on to until full time.
MAN OF THE MATCH
La Rochelle: Julien Ardy
The vibrant scrum-half, who RUCK predicted could make the difference, was fantastic on the night with his pin-point passing and dynamic running making him a constant nuisance to the Cherry and Whites defence. His try in the first half was also a great example of his fantastic burst of pace. This playmaker was very unlucky to be on the losing side in this one.
La Rochelle: Charles Bouldoire, Alex Northam, Eliott Roundil, Malietoa Hingano, Gabriel Lacroix, Fabien Fortassin, Julien Audy, Mike Corbel, Benjamin Geledan, Gagi Bazadze, Jone Qovu, Leandro Cedaro, Jason Eaton, Romain Sazy, Kévin Gourdon
Replacements: Maxime Gua, Vincent Pelo, Thomas Synaeghel, Damien Lagrange, Zeno Kieft, Albain Meron, Jules Lebail, Martin Carre
Gloucester Rugby: James Hook; Charlie Sharples, Bill Meakes, Mark Atkinson, Henry Purdy; Billy Twelvetrees (capt), Greig Laidlaw; Paddy McAllister, Richard Hibbard, John Afoa; Tom Savage, Jeremy Thrush; Ross Moriarty, Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan
Replacements: Tom Lindsay, Yann Thomas, Paul Doran-Jones, Sione Kalamafoni, Jacob Rowan, Willi Heinz, Steve McColl, Rob Cook
Date: Thursday 19th November 2015
Venue: Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle
Referees: Marius Mitrea