Ronan O'Gara (file pic). Alamy Stock Photo

Ronan O'Gara caps brilliant week as La Rochelle ease to win in Champions Cup opener

There was also an historic first in Durban where Sharks became the first South African franchise to take part in the new format.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS La Rochelle eased to a 46-12 Champions Cup win over Northampton, racing to a 32-0 by half-time with tries from Brice Dulin, Pierre Bougarit, Pierre Boudehent and Dillyn Leyds.

Gregory Alldritt and Ulupano Seuteni added second-half tries, as Ronan O’Gara celebrated his recent contract extension in style.

Elsewhere, there was also an historic first in Durban where Sharks became the first South African franchise to take part in the new-format Champions Cup, edging English side Harlequins 39-31 in a pulsating match.

The Cape Town-based Stormers looked as though they were also going to open with a win as they went in at half-time with a 14-3 lead at Clermont. But the Top 14 side ran in two tries in the second half, scoring 21 points without return to win 24-14.

Harlequins had outscored a Sharks side including eight internationals, including Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, five tries to four but still lost. A small consolation was that both sides took a bonus point for tries scored.

Josh Bassett put the Premiership side ahead in the seventh minute but Bongi Mbonambi struck back and two tries from Springbok wing Makazole Mapimpi took Sharks into a 22-7 lead.

Will Evans reduced the lead with Quins’ second try but Werner Kok sprinted away for a superb solo try and Curwin Bosch added a penalty to make it 32-14 for Sharks.

Quins rallied gamely. Andre Esterhuizen, who played for the Sharks until moving to London in 2020, dotted down twice and Bassett added his second to reduce the deficit to a single point with two minutes remaining.

Sharks closed the deal, though, with Boeta Chamberlain completing a fine move down the right.

Stormers made the early running at Clermont, flanker Deon Fourie’s try off a line-out close to the line giving them the edge in the first half.

Clermont were a different proposition in the second half. Tries from Alex Newsome and Aliverati Raka gave them the lead and the boot of former France fly-half Jules Plisson – a drop goal and a penalty – settled the outcome.

Bulls saw off last season’s European Challenge Cup winners Lyon 42-36 in Pretoria scoring six tries, from Sibongile Novuka, Bernard van der Linde (2), Nizaam Carr, Stravino Jacobs and Chris Smith.

Lyon had trailed by 16 points at one stage but the South Africans held their nerve.

– © AFP 2022

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