Wallabies captain Will Skelton played the role of hero and villain for La Rochelle on Sunday as the two-time defending European champions ran away with a commanding 45-12 win over Leicester in the Champions Cup.
Australia’s 2023 Rugby World Cup skipper sent the crowd into a frenzy with a monstrous carry and score late in the first term, but poor discipline after the break risked bringing their English opponents back into the contest.
But thankfully for La Rochelle, the French juggernauts held on for an all-important victory at Stade Marcel-Deflandre – after all, it was a must-win game.
Ronan O’Gara’s men have fallen behind the pack domestically in France. While they sit in eighth place after 12 games, La Rochelle’s European form hasn’t exactly gone to plan either.
In a rematch of last year’s final, La Rochelle played Leinster in their first pool match of the 2023/24 Champions Cup campaign. But unlike that decider, La Rochelle was beaten.
South African side the Stormers also edged La Rochelle by one point in pool play which set up a decisive matchup with Leicester in just their third match of the European season.
France hooker Pierre Bourgarit opened the scoring in just the fifth minute for La Rochelle, but the hosts couldn’t add to their advantage for a while – but it was truly worth the wait.
Setting up an attacking lineout just five metres out from the try-line, La Rochelle ran a clever set-piece play as towering lock Will Skelton peeled off the back of a maul.
Skelton, 31, charged towards the Leicester defensive line with purpose and intent. The second-rower beat three defenders to crash over for the score in the 32nd minute.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) January 14, 2024
Teammates flocked to Skelton as the Australian began to celebrate in the in-goal. It was a big moment in the context of that clash.
With a 14-point lead at the break, La Rochelle were firmly in control. Teddy Thomas added to their score with another five-point shortly after the break, too.
But in what could’ve been a turning point in the contest, Skelton was sent to the sin bin in the 50th minute. France centre Jonathan Danty followed his teammate a minute later, too.
Leicester had a two-player advantage over their favoured opponents, but it didn’t stop the La Rochelle machine from getting the job done in Europe.
Joel Sclavi scored, and both Teddy Thomas and Ulupano Seuteni completed their braces. It was a dominant win over La Rochelle, that’s for sure.
La Rochelle now occupies fourth-place in Pool 4 with Leicester slightly ahead of them by just two-competition points. Leinster and the Stormers sit in first and second respectively.