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La Rochelle can move a step closer to a place in the European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-finals if they overcome Bayonne on Thursday night.
With Patrice Collazo and Xavier Garbajosa in charge, La Rochelle are the surprise package in the Top 14 this season, sitting second behind Clermont Auvergne.
And ahead of their next European encounter they recorded arguably their best win this season after toppling Castres Olympique 22-8 in the Top14 on Saturday.
La Rochelle narrowly top Pool 1 ahead of Gloucester having dismantled the English side 42-13 at the Stade Marcel Deflandre last month. That result took them to the summit of the group but they are locked on 15 points with the 2015 Challenge Cup champions, making the final two games crucial.
Bayonne, in contrast, are rock bottom of the group having lost all four games, including back-to-back reversals to Italian side Benetton Treviso.
The two teams met in the Challenge Cup on October 20 and La Rochelle ran out commanding victors with a 51-24 triumph.
Eight home tries were scored that day including a first-half double for full-back Charles Bouldoire.
La Rochelle only travelled to the Stade Jean Dauger on December 23 in the Top 14 as they thumped the hosts 42-17.
But the 229-mile journey south along the Bay of Biscay could just prove a tricky trip for Collazo’s men, with the added pressure of qualification on their hands.
The former France prop wants his team to focus on the job ahead.
He said: “We do not know what will happen in two, or 10 days’ time, we will leave for Bayonne on Wednesday. We need to learn to always want more, we must be ready for our next game on Thursday. That is all we can do.”
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La Rochelle left the door slightly ajar for Pool 4 rivals Gloucester Rugby as they failed to pick up a try bonus-point in their all-French affair at Stade Jean-Dauger.
The 2015 champions, Gloucester, travel to PRO12 basement side Benetton Treviso in Round 5 before receiving Bayonne at Kingsholm next week. Two bonus point wins will now be enough to win them the pool, even if La Rochelle beat the Italians at Stade Marcel Deflandre in Round 6.
Having run in 10 tries in a 51-24 home win in Round 2, many thought the second placed team in the TOP 14 would be able to pick up another five points on the road. But some stubborn resistance from Bayonne made it anything but easy for the visitors.
Bayonne drew first blood with a third minute penalty from Raphael Lagarde and the boot of the home outside half kept his side in touch for most of the first-half. Opposite number Brock James levelled six minutes later to notch La Rochelle’s 1,000th point in the Challenge Cup in their 42nd match.
But Lagarde made it 6-3 with his second successful strike in the 26th minute as the contest heated up. Then Bayonne lost lock Adam Jaulhac to the sin-bin and La Rochelle moved in for the kill.
A minute later they conjured up the game’s first try for Leo Cedaro before running in a second on the stroke of half-time through Mohamed Boughanmi. James converted them both to give his side a 17-9 interval lead.
When La Rochelle bagged their third try two minutes after the re-start, from Botia Veivuke, it seemed as though the game might turn into a procession of points once again, especially when James knocked over the extras. And things looked like getting far worse for the home side when left wing Julien Jane picked up another yellow card.
But as hard as they tried, and as much as they refreshed their side with replacements, La Rochelle couldn’t find a way to bag the bonus point try. They lost replacement Alexi Bales to the sin-bin just after the hour and that made scoring even harder.
In the end, Bayonne, without a win in the tournament this season, found a way to cross the line and Bastien Fuster claimed the try. Manu Saubusse missed the conversion,