Newcomers La Rochelle stun Harlequins with bonus victory
Ahead of welcoming Ulster to the Stade Marcel Deflandre this weekend, La Rochelle's first ever Champions Cup campaign got off to a dream start with a 34-27, bonus-point win away to Harlequins.
Last season's surprise package in the Top 14, who finished top of the ladder and came within a late Toulon drop goal of making the final, brought their domestic form into continental competition and had scored their fourth try just five minutes into the second-half.
The visitors are still without big name All Black duo Rene Ranger and Tawera Kerr-Barlow but had more than enough for their London hosts, at one point leading 34-17.
With just two minutes on the clock, a high tackle by former Edinburgh man Tim Visser on wing Vincent Rattez allowed for a La Rochelle penalty to be sent to touch and hooker Hikairo Forbes peeled around to score.
Ryan Lamb, the Englishman who joined from Worcester over the summer, was fit again to take the place of an injured Brock James. started off a strong personal performance on his return to his homeland by adding the conversion.
He and much-talked about youngster Marcus Smith traded penalties before a Charlie Matthews converted try knotted the score at 10 apiece.
An entertaining game played at a high tempo, La Rochelle retook the lead when centre Geoffrey Doumayrou and captain Jason Easton combined to open up Quins and for the Frenchman to score.
Loosehead prop Dany Priso added another to put his side firmly in control 10 minutes before the half but Joe Marchant was the beneficiary of a lovely show of skill from Smith to keep his side within touching distance at the half.
Doumayrou would score again just five minutes after the restart, with Lamb again the architect, and the out-half added another penalty for a 17-point lead.
A yellow card for Kevin Gourdon facilitated enough of comeback to at least yield a losing bonus point but it was to be La Rochelle's, and Lamb's, day.
"It's quite easy when you can pass to eight guys who are over 18 stone" joked the 31-year-old. "And we've got some fantastic players, with great vision.
"Everyone's on the same page. We all want to play rugby. It doesn't matter where it's from - if it's on, we're going to play.
"I love it in France. The first month was quite tough, just trying to get internet and things like that sorted out.
"It's been nice to take myself out of my comfort zone, moving away from Cheltenham where I had lived for a long time.
"Moving to France, it's completely different, especially with a young family.
"The French people have really opened up and made us welcome. It feels like it's taken years off my age. I feel 25 again."