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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 17 December, 2018
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Good afternoon and welcome along to our live coverage of today’s Champions Cup clash from Kingspan Stadium, where Ulster take on La Rochelle aiming to top their pool with a win which could re-ignite their season.

A game-changing 80 minutes lies in wait this afternoon. Ulster have enjoyed a stop-start campaign at times, with form in the Pro14 underwhelming where their European exploits have harboured hope for the New Year and 2018.

With a win today Les Kiss’ troops can top their pool and get their calendar year off to a bursting start. Easier said than done, however, as they face a formidable La Rochelle side who dished out five tries at the Stade Marcel de Flandre three months ago.

And a quick reminder of today’s teams…

Ulster

15. Charles Piutau
14. Craig Gilroy
13. Louis Ludik
12. Stu McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Christian Lealiifano
9. John Cooney

1. Callum Black
2. Rory Best (Capt)
3. Rodney Ah You
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Iain Henderson
6. Matty Rea
7. Sean Reidy
8. Nick Timoney

Replacements:

16. Rob Herring
17. Kyle McCall
18. Ross Kane
19. Kieran Treadwell
20. Chris Henry
21. Dave Shanahan
22. Johnny McPhillips
23. Darren Cave

La Rochelle

15. Kini Murimurivalu
14. Gabriel Lacroix
13. Geoffrey Doumayrou
12. Pierre Aguillon
11. Vincent Rattez
10. Jérémy Sinzelle
9. Alexi Bales

1. Dany Priso
2. Pierre Bourgarit
3. Uini Atonio
4. Jason Eaton
5. Mathieu Tanguy
6. Botia Veivuke
7. Kevin Gourdon
8. Victor Vito

Replacements

16. Jean-Charles Orioli
17. Vincent Pelo
18. Mohamed Boughanmi
19. Gregory Lamboley
20. Afa Amosa
21. Tawera Kerr Barlow
22. Benjamin Nobles
23. Paul Jordaan

A little under ten minutes to go on a dull, grey day in Belfast. Hopefully the action on the field will make up for the conditions!

Rory Best, Wayne Barnes and Jason Eaton with coin toss winner Sean McNally Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

La Rochelle arrive at the Kingspan Stadium

Jean Deysel arrives

KICK-OFF: 1 – Ulster 0-0 La Rochelle: We’re underway in Belfast as the visitors kick off amid the grey mist!

3 – Ulster 0-0 La Rochelle: Jérémy Sinzelle almost snaps away with ease right from the off. Ulster seem slightly standoffish as the visitors dominate these opening couple of minutes. That easily could have been an early try inside three minutes but Ulster breath a momentary sigh of relief.

4 – Ulster 0-0 La Rochelle: There’s been a prolonged passage of neat, short passes combined with fierce ball carrying from La Rochelle already. Sinzelle kicks into the corner and already Ulster are pinned back.

6– Ulster 0-0 La Rochelle: A good set piece from Ulster and they can move the ball along — it’s cleared in the direction of Gabriel Lacroix and La Rochelle push forward from the middle once again to maintain the pressure.

9 – Ulster 0-3 La Rochelle: A big, big, big let-off for Ulster as a punt into the corner is not seized upon. Alexi Bales kicks a resulting penalty over and the visitors take the lead when they really, really did squander a try just there. Another let-off for Les Kiss’ men.

10 – Ulster 0-3 La Rochelle: Ulster are really just about hanging on at the moment. They just managed to escape Sinzelle’s kick into the corner a few moments ago as Vincent Rattez couldn’t get his hands onto it. They have since regained possession and are starting to make up some territory, as Jordaan replaces the injured Lacroix for La Rochelle.

12 – Ulster 0-3 La Rochelle: Ulster earn a penalty and manage some breathing space. It’s attempted to be kicked into touch but comes up short, not before taking a knock-on — earning an Ulster scrum inside the opposition 22.

13– Ulster 0-3 La Rochelle: Ulster concede a scrum penalty as Murimurivalu kicks it into touch. The visitors manage to secure the lineout ball and secure another penalty further up which gives them a chance to double their lead.

16– Ulster 0-6 La Rochelle: Alexi Bales happily knocks the penalty over and it’s six nothing La Rochelle after 15 minutes.

18– Ulster 0-6 La Rochelle: Chance for a snappy break along the left for Ulster following a quick, agile offload from Stuart McCloskey but it’s forced out for a lineout which Best will take. Better from the hosts.

23– Ulster 0-6 La Rochelle: Paul Jordaan is shown a yellow card and is sent to the bin for La Rochelle. Some heated tensions between the sides there after he played Charles Piutau in the air, which the hosts didn’t like one bit. That followed a rare piece of attacking play from Ulster this afternoon following a neat pass from John Cooney which Christian Lealiifano spilled at the wrong moment.

25– Ulster 0-6 La Rochelle: A stunning turnover from Rory Best who provides leadership just at the right moment. The crowd roars loud in response as Cooney kicks ahead. Ulster win the ball right on the opposition five and there’s finally some life from the hosts as they fight back with bite!

28– Ulster 5-6 La Rochelle: TRY!! Rory Best gets Ulster back into this! That’s a real statement from the hooker as his side wins the lineout maul from no more than 5 yards out supberbly before powering over.

29– Ulster 5-6 La Rochelle: John Cooney’s conversion looks like slotting over but the heavy wind drags it narrowly wide of the post. A poor missed opportunity, there.

33– Ulster 5-6 La Rochelle: Jordaan returns from the sin bin as La Rochelle return to 15 men following his yellow card. They will feel the need to stabilise and stem this current Ulster wave which won’t let up.

35– Ulster 10-6 La Rochelle: TRY!! A second try in the space of seven minutes and this time it’s Jacob Stockdale!

The game line was won hard by Ulster and Stockdale manages to firstly stop dead in his tracks before summoning some added stamina in his legs to march over the try line magnificently. That said it was some very, very soft defending from La Rochelle.

37– Ulster 10-6 La Rochelle: For the second time this afternoon John Cooney’s conversion drags just narrowly wide of the post again. Nevertheless, his side lead as we approach the break with momentum firmly swinging decisively in their favour.

Well, what did we make of that then? Ulster began very sheepishly and were immediately  under pressure with those two Bales’ penalties putting them under the cosh straight away.

That said, the game has completely and utterly swung in their favour with two brilliant tries from Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale. Momentum is firmly in their favour, but can they build on a promising end to the first half and see out a big win?

Second-half: We’re back underway for the second period.

41– Ulster 10-11 La Rochelle: TRY!! La Rochelle get off to the perfect start in the second half as they cut through the heart of this Ulster defence like melted butter. Bales races through untracked following a break from Vito. Brilliant, brilliant score.

42– Ulster 10-13 La Rochelle: Bales knocks over the conversion and La Rochelle have a three point lead.

43– Ulster 17-13 La Rochelle: TRY!! The perfect response from Ulster as La Rochelle completely capitulate at the other end. It’s Nick Timoney with the try after Darren Cave collected a loose ball. Cooney converts for the first time this afternoon at the third time of asking. What a game!

50– Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: John Cooney slots over a penalty from 25 m range. A brilliant spell of dominance for Ulster who take a seven point lead. Is a bonus point win completely out of the question for Less Kiss’ side?

An excellent encounter so far. Is there more drama to come?

Charles Piutau taken out by Paul Jordaan Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Christian Lealiifano and Matty Rea with Levani Botia

Louis Ludik with Pierre Aguillon

Iain Henderson claims a line out

54 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Vito takes a hard hit from Louis Ludik who is reading the game superbly. Ulster maintaining defensive discipline as Darren Cave forces his opponent out with an aggressive driving maul which draws a roar from the crowd.

57 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Another good set piece from Ulster as they are awarded a penalty from distance following a perfectly executed scrum. It’s kicked into touch just along the 22.

58 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: A dominant scrum inside the 22 from La Rochelle who are roaring back with a combination of aggression and frustration. This game was there for the taking inside the opening 20 minutes but are now finding it difficult to find a way back into this. Ulster holding firm.

59 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: The visitors set the maul as Bourgarit manages to hit Tanguy right at the front. La Rochelle opt for another scrum after Ulster were penalised by Wayne Barnes for coming in from the side. Ulster being pinned back at the moment.

63 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Some argy bargy between the sides there after Dany Priso was hit by two seemingly legal tackles, the latter from Louis Ludik. Both teams clash in anger but referee Barnes diffuses the situation and play will continue. Heated tensions.

65 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Ulster wearing down the clock brilliantly before a charging tackle from Charles Piutau brings his opponent into touch following John Cooney’s kick. The crowd were absolutely loving that.

66 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: In the meantime Ulster have made two switches; Ross Kane and Chris Henry for Rodney Ah You and Sean Reidy.

70– Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: The hosts concede a penalty but now it’s just about seeing down the clock for Ulster. La Rochelle are forcing turnovers and winning scrums but lack any sort of the penetration which was evident in Bales’ try at the start of the second half. The penalty is kicked into touch — ten minutes to go.

72 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: A brilliant turnover from Ulster which ignites the crowd into rapturous applause. Their opponents are showing a lot of determination but are succeeding in being slowed down when it matters approaching the 22.

74 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: A few more changes from Les Kiss as Rory Best departs to a standing ovation. He has been nothing but inspiring for his side today and more than deserves his Kingspan win today after such a long wait to secure a win in front of his own supporters in Belfast.

75 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: A stunning box kick from John Cooney means there could very well be a bonus point win in this. Ulster gain a lot of ground and go in search of another try via Ross Kane with five minutes remaining.

77 – Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Ulster build up through 10 phases but eventually concede via a sloppy knock-on. They maintain territory deep inside La Rochelle’s 22 in search of a bonus point win. A lot can happen with three minutes to go.

About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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