Belfast Telegraph

Wasps win will have no impact on Ulster's chances in La Rochelle clash: Kiss


By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster may have won six of seven games in all competitions so far this year but Director of Rugby Les Kiss believes it will take their best effort of the season to come away with the spoils against La Rochelle on Sunday afternoon.

The side from the Bay of Biscay have lost only once at home since the beginning of last season, against a Gloucester side with a heavy Ulster influence in last season's Challenge Cup, and the fervent locals are sure to have the atmosphere whipped up to fever pitch ahead of the Stade Marcel-Deflandre's first ever Champions Cup contest.

Like Ulster, Patrice Collazo's men got their European campaign off to a triumphant start over the weekend, although their ability to win on the road against Harlequins, and with a try-bonus for good measure, has put them in the presumptive driving seat at this earliest of stages.

While France was once a hopeless hunting ground, Ulster have won three of the six games across the Channel since getting the monkey off their backs with that first competitive victory over Castres in 2013, however Kiss is aware that the side who led the Top14 last season only to lose a semi-final to Toulon figure to be a different proposition.

"La Rochelle, I am not sure they have lost at home much in the last year or so," said the Australian, now taking a third stab at this competition.

"They are a massively good team at home. Gloucester beat them in the Challenge Cup semi-final, and you cannot find many other games where they haven't got the money.

"There's pressure being away in a really tough environment, the way they support their team is massive and the way they play their game is based on power and this super speed they have on the edges."

As Kiss alludes to, La Rochelle are something of an atypical French side. Not least because, unlike so many of their Top14 cohorts, they are a team who travel well, but also in their style of play.

With the likes of two-time World Cup winner Victor Vito and his fellow former All Black Jason Eaton, there is a heavy Kiwi influence on their style of play, even though Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Rene Ranger will not arrive until later in the season.

And while they have plenty of typically French heft in the pack - prop Uini Atonio seems to be the poster boy for Les Bleus' side every Six Nations, but he is not alone in tipping the scales north of 20 stones at his club - it is a blend of both power and pace that sees them adopt the most expansive style in the Top14.

With centre Geoffrey Doumayrou, the once capped Montpellier native, and former Worcester man Ryan Lamb to the fore, they showed their usual sense of adventure in the win over Quins, putting boot to ball only 18 times; less than any other team in the competition during the first weekend. It all means Kiss is expecting a very different look from the one presented by Wasps, the English visitors to Kingspan Stadium last week who were ultimately well-marshalled and held without a try.

"I do not think we want to get lost in what did and did not work well against Wasps," he said. "Because La Rochelle, we have done the analysis on them and it is a totally different challenge.

"You might say in a way Wasps are the same, but I do think there is something different about La Rochelle.

"I think we are going to need the best team effort that we have had all year to beat them.

"Wasps is just a win, I would not say it has built us massive momentum or anything, but it was good to win.

"La Rochelle are massively impressive at home, they have plenty of pace to hurt us if we are not working hard in threes, fives and sevens.

"We'll find ourselves in trouble if we get isolated in our carries, which we did a few times (against Wasps) but we got away with it because we won the collisions.

"It will come down to strong basics.

"There'll be a massive team focus this week so that we can rebut what they throw at us."

Ulster expect to have Alan O'Connor back after he missed out on the win over Wasps through concussion.

La Rochelle


Champions League Pool One:

Stade Marcel-Deflandre , Sunday, 3.15pm

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