Thursday, May 6, 2021

La Rochelle qualifies for the semi-finals of the European Cup

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No longer call it “Champions Cup” but “Champions Cup”: the main rugby competition for European clubs has taken on the French accent, with three representatives guaranteed to be in the semi-finals this season.

The only French team not to face a compatriot in the quarter-finals, La Rochelle won against the English de Sales, Saturday April 10 (45-21). The Maritimes are entering the last four of the competition for the first time.

The Rochelais relied on the strength of their forwards and were very effective in extinguishing Sale, third in the English championship. After a hooked and intense first period, they broke away from the start of the second act.

In the round of 16, against the English Gloucester, Friday April 2 (27-16), the Fijian center Levani Botia had burst the screen. This time, it is the South African, Raymond Rhule who donned the costume of the hero.

The winger scored two tries in the first quarter of an hour of the second period to free his partners: the first after a slalom between the English lines, the second taking advantage of an awkwardness from the back opponent, Simon Hammersley, on a ball at the foot of Brice Dulin.

The South African played a terrible trick on his compatriots, present in large numbers in the opposing jersey. But the cohort of world champions were not to their advantage, like scrum-half François de Klerk, whose loss of the ball on a two-on-one led to a La Rochelle try just before half-time.

Two Franco-French shocks on Sunday

The second in the Top 14, the French championship, were however jostled during the first forty minutes, like the score at the break, favorable by only two points to the Rochelais (18-16).

But when the boat pitched, the Maritimes were able to lean on their bundle of forwards. These were Imperial in melee, even getting two penalties on opposing introductions.

The English then exploded, showing their inadequacies to light: to reach the quarter-finals of this competition turned upside down by the pandemic, they won only one match, their round of 16 against the Welsh Scarlets, Sunday 4 April (57-14), after two losses in the group stage.

There is therefore only one English club in the running: the reigning champion Exeter, who receives one of the other favorites of the competition, Leinster (Ireland), early Saturday evening.

Conversely, the French clubs are celebrating: the last two quarter-finals, Sunday, will be fully played by teams from the Top 14, with Bordeaux-Bègles – Racing 92 at 1:30 p.m., followed by Clermont – Toulouse at 16 hours.

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