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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Friday, December 7th 2018

Preview: Bristol Bears vs La Rochelle

Bristol Bears return to European Challenge Cup action this weekend, with French Top 14 side, La Rochelle the visitors to Ashton Gate on Saturday (3pm KO). 

Pat Lam's side head into the game off the back of a bonus-point win over Leicester Tigers last weekend, while La Rochelle, third in the Top 14, are unbeaten under new director of rugby, Jono Gibbes. The French sit at the top of Pool Four, with Bristol in second. 

Here's everything you need to know about Saturday's clash.

Team news

Bristol Bears: 15. Mat Protheroe; 14. Tom Pincus, 13. Piers O’Conor, 12. Will Hurrell, 11. Charlie Powell; 10. Callum Sheedy (co-capt), 9. Harry Randall; 1. Yann Thomas, 2. Harry Thacker, 3. Lewis Thiede, 4. Joe Joyce, 5. Aly Muldowney, 6. Jake Heenan (co-capt), 7. Dan Thomas, 8. Jack Lam.
Replacements: 16. Tom Lindsay, 17. Jake Woolmore, 18. Jake Armstrong, 19. John Hawkins, 20. Nick Haining, 21. Nic Stirzaker, 22. Sam Bedlow, 23. Alapati Leiua.

La Rochelle: 15. Vincent Rattez, 14. Jérémy Sinzelle, 13. Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12. Jules Favre, 11. Marc Andreu, 10. Maxime Lafage, 9. Tawera Kerr Barlow; 1. Léo Aouf, 2. Jean-Charles Orioli, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Mathieu Tanguy. Thomas Jolmes, 6. Zeno Kieft, 7. Grégory Alldritt, 8. Victor Vito (c).
Replacements: 16. Hikairo Forbes, 17. Mike Corbel, 18. Sila Puafisi, 19. Romain Sazy, 20. Kevin Gourdon, 21. Alexi Bales, 22. Elliot Roudil, 23. Botia Veivuke.

Last time out:

Bristol Rugby 41-41 La Rochelle - Sat, 20th Jan 2000, Memorial Stadium

This bizarre high-scoring draw was the final match of Bristol’s 2000-01 European Shield campaign.

The competition had not been a successful venture as far as either club was concerned.

Mont de Marsan headed the group going into the final round of games, Parma were in last place, and this was effectively a battle to see who finished second.

Bristol had already lost 34-19 at La Rochelle earlier in the season, but it was generally thought that they would gain revenge on their own patch.

This looked likely to be the case after Bristol built up a 38-20 lead with over an hour played, but a mad final quarter almost saw the visitors snatch an unlikely victory.

Bristol: Marsden, Brown, Simone, Mayer, Dewdney (Best 50), Vile (Bowen 66), Baber (captain), Siveter (Gerrard 40), Williams (Nelson 66), Fullman, Sheridan (Brown 40), Archer, Short (Siveter 71-79), McCarrick (Vander 50), Sturnham.


Jack Lam

Lam returns to the Bristol Bears fold after spending the Autumn on international duty with Samoa.

The back-row scored twice as Samoa ended a disappointing Autumn with a 28-10 victory over Spain in Madrid.

Lam lines up against former Hurricanes teammate and All Black international, Victor Vito at number eight at Ashton Gate on Saturday in what promises to be a mouthwatering battle. 

Victor Vito

Double world champion with the All Blacks, 33-cap international, Victor Vito has proved a superb acquisition for La Rochelle.

Vito joined the French club following the 2015-2016 Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes.

The powerful back-row forward is a figurehead leader on and off the field for La Rochelle. 

He was named the Top 14’s player of the year for the 2016/2017 season. 

Harry Randall

Harry Randall joined Bristol Bears from Gloucester during the summer, following an impressive campaign on loan at GKIPA Championship side, Hartpury. 

Randall was named in the Championship team of the season, and has continued his fine form in the Gallagher Premiership, capping a strong showing against Leicester Tigers with a superb solo try at Ashton Gate. 

Tawera Kerr-Barlow

Tawera Kerr-Barlow won the World Cup with New Zealand in 2015 and has won 28 caps for the All Blacks.

The scrum-half played Super Rugby for the Waikato Chiefs before agreeing to join La Rochelle in November 2017.

Kerr-Barlow has earned a reputation for bruising defence, clinical clearances and his ability to make a nuisance of himself in classic halfback fashion.

Word from the camp:

Conor McPhillips

“La Rochelle have taken the Top 14 by storm in the last couple of years and they are a massive counter attack team.

“They love to throw the ball around, they’ve got a good back three and half-backs, including Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who has played for the All Blacks.

“It’s a chance to develop our game further, but we’ll be aiming for a quarter-final in Europe and that’s something we’ll definitely be focused on."

Form guide:

Bristol Bears and La Rochelle have met four times previously during the 1997/98 and 2000/01 pool stages. Bristol were undefeated in their two home games (W1, D1) but lost both away matches.

The West Country side have lost just one of their last 10 home games against TOP 14 opposition in the Challenge Cup (W8, D1), that solitary defeat coming against Narbonne in January 2006.

La Rochelle have won both their games so far this season, however, they’ve never won the opening three matches of a Challenge Cup campaign.

The French side have won just one of their eight previous away games against Gallagher Premiership opposition in the tournament (D1, L6), losing the last four in a row.

Bristol’s last five home games have all been decided by double-figure margins (W3, L2). La Rochelle have scored 12 first-half tries this season, more than any other side, while Bristol have scored the second most (8).

Bristol Bears have made 301 tackles this season, more than any other side, while they’ve also made the fifth most carries of any club (285).

Bristol Bears: LLW
La Rochelle: LWW

Weather forecast

Met Office says: 

A bright and sunny start for many. A band of cloud and rain will move across the region from the west followed by heavy showers and strong winds later. Maximum temperature 13 °C.

How to buy tickets:

Tickets are available to purchase online now by clicking here, or via supporter services on 0117 963 0600.

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