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PREVIEW: Top two clash at Kingsholm

Wednesday 7th December 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Gli scozzesi

Gli scozzesi

La Rochelle have been flying high in the TOP 14 this season, but if they are to stand any chance of reaching the knock-out stages of the Challenge Cup they will have to make the most of their back-to-back games with 2015 champions Gloucester.

Kinghsolm has become a bit of a fortress in recent seasons in European competition for the Premiership side, although the Dragons dented their pride with a shock quarter-final win earlier in the year that brought to an end the home dreams of holding on to the title.

Both teams go into the first meeting with a perfect 10 points from two bonus-point wins in their opening matches. Something will have to give over the course of the next two weekends and whoever picks up something on the road could go on to eventually top Pool 1.

Having named an unchanged starting XV for the past three Premiership games, the Gloucester coaches have made no fewer than 10 changes to their run-on team. But coming back into the side after November international duty are Greig Laidlaw, Ross Moriarty and David Halaifonua.

New recruit Josh Hohneck gets his first start for the club in an all new front row, joining Motu Matu'u and Salesi Ma'afu, while England flanker Matt Kvesic returns to back row duty alongside Moriarty and Gareth Evans.

“We've had a good record in this competition over the past few years and it's very important that we put in a big performance against a strong La Rochelle side. They're in fourth place in the TOP 14 at the moment, so they're going well,” said Gloucester backs coach Tim Taylor.

“They've got some very good experienced players in their squad this year, they've spent some money over the summer and have good strength in depth. Whoever they send over it'll be tough and they'll be coming all guns blazing, I'm sure.”

Match Facts

  • Gloucester and La Rochelle are both on a maximum 10 points from their two games to date in Pool 1.
  • The clubs have met six times previously with Gloucester winning on five occasions (L1). 
  • Gloucester have won their last 11 home pool games in the tournament, however, their last defeat in the pool stage was against La Rochelle in 2010. 
  • That La Rochelle victory in 2010 is the club's only away win against Premiership opposition in seven attempts (D1, L5). 
  • La Rochelle are one of only two clubs who have yet to concede a point in the opening quarter of games this season in the Challenge Cup (Ospreys are the other). 
  • La Rochelle have made 54 offloads to date, more than any other side, with David Raikuna making the most of any player (7). 
  • Only Edinburgh (95) have scored more points this season than La Rochelle (92) and Gloucester (84). 
  • La Rochelle have averaged 665 metres per game, more than any other side, but no club has allowed their opponents as few metres as Gloucester(261). 
  • Gloucester have scored three of their 10 tries from kick returns this season – only La Rochelle (4 of 13) have managed more. 
  • Jonny May has scored four tries in his last seven Challenge Cup appearances, including one in each of his two games this season.


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REPORT: Gloucester in control after bonus-point win

Thursday 8th December 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Gloucester cemented their status as Pool 1 leaders in the European Rugby Challenge Cup with a bonus-point 35-14 victory over La Rochelle at Kingsholm. - 08/12/2016 21:41

Gloucester cemented their status as Pool 1 leaders in the European Rugby Challenge Cup with a bonus-point 35-14 victory over La Rochelle at Kingsholm. - 08/12/2016 21:41

Gloucester cemented their status as Pool 1 leaders in the European Rugby Challenge Cup with a bonus-point 35-14 victory over La Rochelle at Kingsholm.

With both teams going into the game unbeaten, something had to give and it was the home side who maintained their perfect start to the competition. Efforts from Mark Atkinson, Josh Hohneck and Ollie Thorley did the damage for the home side, with captain Greig Laidlaw adding 12 points with his right boot.

Centre Matt Scott completed a good night’s work for the home side with their fourth score late on to seal a vital bonus point.

After Henry Purdy had an early effort rightly ruled out for a knock on following his own chip and chase, it was the French visitors who moved ahead. With the giant France prop Uini Atonio and former All Black Victor Vito in their ranks, La Rochelle clearly decided brute power was the way to go. It worked, too.

A series of carries with 24-stone prop Atonio at the heart of things ended with an easy finish for Kevin Gourdon, the flanker waltzing through to dot down. Zack Holmes added the extras, but that was as good as it got for them before the break.

Gloucester soon hit back with Purdy and man of the match Billy Burns excelling in the first 40. Centre Atkinson scored the first for David Humphreys’ side, standing up in the tackle to find his way to the line and dot down. Laidlaw kicked the conversion and a penalty to put his team back in front and it soon got even better.

With Laidlaw dictating things from the base, the Scottish skipper started a lovely blindside move which ended with Purdy finding prop Hohneck inside him to power over. Laidlaw was awry with the touchline conversion, but there was still time for one more before the break.

Again it was Purdy who was the instigator, his break leaving the French defence at sixes and sevens. When the ball was recycled, Burns – whose kicking game was first class – found Thorley with a chip into space which the winger collected for an easy finish.

This time, Laidlaw nailed the touchline conversion for a 22-7 interval lead. Needing a fast start to the second period, La Rochelle got exactly that. From the kick-off they dominated the physical collisions as their giant pack showed why they have been the surprise package in this season’s TOP14. Constant visiting pressure resulted in wing David Raikuna diving over, Holmes again splitting the posts with the conversion.

Laidlaw settled some nerves with a second penalty and added another in the 64th minute to make it 28-14 as the game descended into a forward battle which the home side edged.

The hulking Atonio was one of a number of La Rochelle forwards to leave the field in the second period, but their replacements couldn’t quite make the impact coaches Patrice Collazo and Xavier Garbajosa would have wanted.

In the end they left with nothing to show for their efforts, Scott sending the Kingsholm crowd home happy when he crashed over with just two minutes remaining.

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