Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

French bring power and skill in bid to regain Euro initiative


By Michael Sadlier

The assumption was that topping Pool One was likely to be little more than a procession for La Rochelle and few would have reckoned on what occurred last month on a damp Sunday in Coventry.

The club from France's western seaboard turned up that day at the Ricoh Arena and showed another side to themselves, one far removed from the highly-skilled power game that had brought them, up to that point, three wins from three in the European Champions Cup.

Instead La Rochelle put on show a rather unexpected flakiness which was all the more surprising as one more win would have put them in total control of the group and ended any notions Wasps would have had about possible qualification.

Patrice Collazo brought a diluted selection to the midlands that weekend, presumably reckoning that they would easily follow up their 49-29 win from the week before, and then his charges proceeded to largely ignore the conditions to continually try and play an off-loading game.

The upshot was that Wasps were issued with an open invitation to win the game which they duly did by 21-3 to turn Pool One into a three-horse race.

Interestingly, since that visit to Wasps, La Rochelle haven't exactly been hitting their straps with only one victory from their three Top 14 outings.

But losing at Bordeaux and then, most recently, drawing 38-38 at bottom side Oyonnax has brought an ugliness to a season that has mostly been about winning.

Still, La Rochelle can point to the Top 14 table, which has seen them jostling with Montpellier over who occupies first or second for a number of rounds now.

They look strong for the visit to the Kingspan today with their back row of Botia Veivuke, Kevin Gourdon and Victor Vito being the same one they put out against Ulster in October when the French ran in five tries.

The visitors also have their strongest midfield on show in Geoffrey Doumayrou and Pierre Aguillon and, up front, they are deploying powerful props Dany Priso and Uini Atonio.

Playing Jeremy Sinzelle at 10 - he was on the wing and scored last time the sides met - is an interesting but not untried call and, with Jason Eaton leading the side, there is a plentiful supply of grunt, experience and skill.

Now it's about showing some away form to regain control of Pool One.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph