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Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Best delivers MOTM display as Ulster go top of Champions Cup pool

By Adam McKendry

Ulster moved top of Pool One in the European Champions Cup with a gutsy 20-13 win over French heavyweights La Rochelle at Kingspan Stadium.

First half tries from Man of the Match Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale had the hosts ahead at the break, before Nick Timoney’s second half score secured the four points. Ulster are now one ahead of La Rochelle at the top of the pool ahead of their trip to Wasps next Sunday.

Scrum half Alexi Bales scored all of the visitors’ points, including a try, and it was he who opened the scoring with a brace of early penalties to reflects La Rochelle’s fast start.

Ulster got the first try, however, after Paul Jordaan was yellow carded for taking Charles Piutau out in the air, and Rory Best carried a maul over the line, spinning over and dotting down in the corner.

That became two just before the break as Jacob Stockdale shrugged off the interests of Vincent Rattez to dance his way over in the tightest of angles at the corner.

The fear of a comeback was very real, and two minutes after the break La Rochelle struck, Victor Vito picking and going from a ruck and bursting through before sending Bales the rest of the way for the score.

Immediately Ulster responded, Darren Cave pounding on a loose ball and feeding Nick Timoney, who held off two tacklers to get the touchdown from the restart.

La Rochelle had a dominant pack, and their scrum set to work by taking over up front, however they couldn’t force a penalty try after several set pieces on the 5m line and, when Vito broke off the back, his offload went loose and the chance was gone.

That allowed Ulster to hang on, and arguably they squandered a bonus point try when they had several chances towards the end to get a fourth try, but ultimately their destiny is still in their own hands as they travel to Wasps next Sunday knowing a win will have them in the last eight.

The scorers

For Ulster

Tries: Best, Stockdale, Timoney

Con: Cooney

Pen: Cooney

For La Rochelle

Try: Bales

Con: Bales

Pens: Bales (2)

ULSTER: (15-9) Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy (Darren Cave 27), Louis Ludik, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Christian Leali’ifano (Johnny McPhillips 73), John Cooney; (1-8) Callum Black (Kyle McCall 58), Rory Best (Rob Herring 73), Rodney Ah You, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Matty Rea (Kieran Treadwell 58), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.

Sub not used: Dave Shanahan.

LA ROCHELLE: (15-9) Kini Murimurivalu, Gabriel Lacroix (Paul Jordaan 12 (Benjamin Noble 65)), Geoffrey Doumayrou, Pierre Aguillon, Vincent Rattez, Jérémy Sinzelle, Alexi Bales (Tawera Kerr-Barlow 61); (1-8) Dany Priso (Vincent Pelo 64), Pierre Bourgarit (Jean-Charles Orioli 64), Uini Atonio (Mohamed Boughanmi 64), Jason Eaton, Mathieu Tanguy (Grégory Lamboley 65), Botia Veivuke, Kevin Gourdon, Victor Vito (Afa Amosa 64).

Yellow card: Paul Jordaan (23’)

Man of the Match: Rory Best (Ulster)

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Here's the exciting game as it happened:

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