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Will Carpenter reports from
Report: Bristol Bears 22-35 La Rochelle
Saturday, December 8th 2018
Bristol Bears succumbed to a second-half storm from visitors La Rochelle to go down 22-35 in Saturday’s European Challenge Cup clash at Ashton Gate.
Pat Lam’s side had led until the 39th minute thanks to two tries in the opening 20 minutes from Harry Thacker and Jake Heenan.
But the French side hit back through Gregory Alldritt and replacement Romain Sazy, on the stroke of half-time, to take a 14-10 lead into the interval. And they cut loose after the break, with three tries in 17 minutes from Jules Favre, Vincent Rattez and Jeremy Sinzelle putting the game out of Bristol’s reach in the final quarter.
Tom Pincus touched down courtesy of a Callum Sheedy cross-kick and Charlie Powell dashed over to secure a consolation bonus-point late on, but the 17-minute blitz from Jono Gibbes’ side proved the difference, as the Pool Four leaders continued their unbeaten run in the competition ahead of next weekend’s return fixture at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
It was the perfect start from Bristol Bears as Thacker touched down from a driving lineout for his sixth try in three games to give the hosts an early lead.
The home side were then given a let-off when Victor Vito spilt the ball with the line at his mercy, and La Rochelle were made to pay almost immediately at the other end, as Heenan collected Sheedy’s offload to slide in following a sweeping move involving Charlie Powell and Jack Lam.
But after giving themselves space to breathe, Bristol failed to deal with the resulting kick-off to gift La Rochelle the perfect response, as Alldritt steamed on to a flat pass from Tawera Kerr-Barlow to score.
And after Pat Lam’s side had let a golden opportunity go begging at the other end, replacement lock, Sazy latched on to Unai Antonio’s offload to give the French side a narrow half-time lead.
A sweeping set-piece move sent Favre over early in the second period to kick off La Rochelle’s period of dominance on 45 minutes, before Rattez raced away to seal the bonus-point three minutes later.
They scored their fifth shortly after the hour mark when Sinzelle and Marc Andreu combined to send the wing over in the left-hand corner, with Maxime Lafarge’s conversion maintaining a perfect record from the tee.
But Bristol refused to lie down and crossed for a third 13 minutes from time when Pincus rose highest to collect Sheedy’s pin-point kick.
And the hosts sealed a consolation bonus-point three minutes from time as Piers O’Conor linked up with Powell to send the Academy flyer in for a try on his first European start for the club.
Bristol Bears: Protheroe; Pincus, O’Conor, Hurrell (Bedlow 67), Powell; Sheedy (cc), Randall (Stirzaker 48); Thomas (Woolmore 63), Thacker (Lindsay 56), Thiede (Armstrong 48), Joyce, Muldowney (Hawkins 62), Heenan (cc) (Haining 59), Thomas, Lam.
Replacements: Lindsay, Woolmore, Armstrong, Hawkins, Haining, Stirzaker, Bedlow, Daniels.
La Rochelle: Rattez (Roudil 61), Sinzelle, Doumayrou (Bales 68), Favre (Botia 54), Andreu, Lafage, Kerr Barlow; Aouf (Corbel 44), Orioli (Forbes 53), Atonio (Puafisi 58), Tanguy (Sazy 28), Jolmes, Kieft, Alldritt (Gourdon 63), Vito (c).
Replacements: Forbes, Corbel, Puafisi, Sazy, Gourdon, Bales, Roudil, Botia.
Bristol Bears: Tries: Thacker 6, Heenan 18, Pincus 67, Powell 77 Cons: Sheedy 77
La Rochelle: Tries: Alldritt 19, Sazy 40, Favre 45, Rattez 48, Sinzelle 62. Cons: Lafage 19, 40, 45, 48, 62
Romain Sazy's try edged La Rochelle in front at the break, but it was Jules Favre's score early in the second-half that began a 20-minute spell of La Rochelle dominance.
It was a spell that decided the game, as the French side ran in three tries in quick succession to seal a bonus-point win for the Pool Four leaders.
Man of the match: Tom Pincus
Pincus put on an aerial exhibition at Ashton Gate, ruling the skies in blustery conditions.
The wing was impressive under the high ball and busy in open play throughout the 80 minutes, capping a strong showing with a try courtesy of another superb aerial take from Sheedy's cross-field kick.
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