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Stade Rochelais start the defence of their Heineken Champions Cup crown against Northampton Saints at the Stade Marcel Deflandre on Saturday.
La Rochelle’s clinched their maiden EPCR crown with a thrilling 24-21 victory over Leinster Rugby in last season’s showpiece game, with replacement Arthur Retière scoring a last-gasp winning try.
Northampton endured a difficult Heineken Champions Cup campaign in 2021/22, falling to three defeats in the pool stage which saw them drop into the EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16, where they were subsequently eliminated.
La Rochelle have blown hot and cold in the TOP 14 over the last couple of months, winning three and losing three of their last six encounters.
But they still find themselves third in the table and will be confident of a home win this weekend, boosted by the return of star No.8 Grégory Alldritt.
Northampton are one of the Gallagher Premiership’s top scorers, with 285 points from their ten games. However, they also have the worst defensive record in the league, conceding 314 points – a stat that will need to be improved if they are to overcome La Rochelle, who have averaged just over 33 points a game at home this season.
The match at Stade Marcel Deflandre will be shown on France TV, BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport and FloRugby, with kick-off at 17:30 (UK and Irish time).
First question to everyone at season launch…
Who’s lifting the #HeinekenChampionsCup this season – and they couldn’t say themselves (as much as they tried) 👀
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) November 30, 2022
Jules Favre (Stade Rochelais centre): “This title made it possible to put La Rochelle on the map of Europe. We are champions for life, together. This feeling at the Old Port of La Rochelle was incredible. In a few days, the trophy is no longer ours. But we want to show that this victory was not a coincidence, that our title is deserved.”
Courtnall Skosan (Northampton Saints wing): “I think for us it’s all about cleaning up our game, just not making a lot of mistakes. We have the game that can take us all the way, it’s just about making sure that it’s clean and I think that’s a big focus for us.”
- Stade Rochelais forwards Dany Priso and Grégory Alldritt finished the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup with the two highest penalty count concessions in the competition: 12 and 10 respectively.
- A powerhouse at the back of the Stade Rochelais scrum, Alldritt made more carries than any other player last season (136) and more passes than any other forward (136).
- Reigning champions, Stade Rochelais, conceded the most penalties last season, getting on the wrong end of the referees’ whistle 94 times in total. 38 of these were for ruck offences.
- Northampton Saints conceded as many penalty tries as any side in the competition last season, conceding five automatic seven-pointers (level with Union Bordeaux-Bégles and Scarlets).
- Saints’ Juarno Augustus made more metres in contact in a single match last season than any other player in the EPCR Challenge Cup (40 v Gloucester Rugby, Round of 16).
- Northampton have four players who are among those who have produced the three highest total try assists last season: Alex Mitchell (six), Fraser Dingwall (five), George Furbank (five), and Rory Hutchinson (five).
Match Centre - Preview - Lineups
Stade Rochelais began the defence of their Heineken Champions Cup crown with an emphatic 46-12 victory over Northampton Saints at the Stade Marcel Deflandre on Saturday evening.
Brice Dulin, Pierre Bourgarit, Pierre Boudehent and Dillyn Leyds all crossed the Northampton whitewash in the first period as La Rochelle opened up a 32-0 lead at the interval.
Further tries from Grégory Alldritt and Ulupano Seuteni extended the lead for the hosts, with Antoine Hastoy tallying 16 points in the contest from the tee.
Northampton notched late tries through James Ramm and Matty Proctor, but were thoroughly outplayed for the majority of the contest.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2022
The defending champions started in emphatic fashion, opening their account for the season after just three minutes. Full-back Dulin corralled a loose ball on the left flank and dashed to the corner to score.
Bourgarit added the second try of the contest halfway through the second period. The hooker broke off the side of a rolling maul to touch down in the corner.
Wing Boudehent then got in on the scoring action as La Rochelle made use of another lineout close to the try line. The wing rushed down the short side on the left flank before dotting down under the posts.
Dillyn Leyds scored the bonus-point try in added time at the end of the first half. A lofted pass to the right flank allowed the wing to step inside two defenders before crossing the whitewash in the corner.
Things got worse for Northampton early in the second half when Alldritt blocked a Saints clearance and scooped up the loose ball to score just four minutes after the restart.
La Rochelle added further points on the scoreboard when Dulin produced a beautiful cross-field kick to find Seuteni on the right flank, who beat two defenders before crossing the whitewash.
Northampton did score two late consolation tries through Ramm and Proctor, but the match was very much won at a canter by the hosts.
La Rochelle head to Ireland in the second round of fixtures to take on Ulster Rugby next Saturday, while Northampton entertain Irish opposition of their own when Munster Rugby visit cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday.