La Rochelle started the game in ferocious fashion, playing with tempo and involving their big carriers early on in quick succession, but Ulster, through some astute defensive play, prevented any early fatal scores.
Here are the winners and losers from Saturday’s game.
The Ulsterman put in a terrific display at the Kingspan, adapting well to his move onto the wing to cover Craig Gilroy’s injury.
Put in three big tackles during La Rochelle’s response in the second half. Ludik’s unspectacular work, the kind of work that doesn’t make a highlight reel, is the bedrock of what Ulster have been missing this season. Spectacularly unspectacular.
Ulster’s Director of Rugby conveyed his defensive game plan with accuracy throughout Ulster’s week of preparation as there was an obvious tactic of two-man tackling in the opening minutes.
Despite La Rochelle bringing their big carriers into the game very early on, Ulster withheld the pressure and will have been relieved to have only conceded two penalties in the opening quarter.
La Rochelle’s failure to comeback from what was a disappointing return in the first quarter allowed Ulster to establish a foothold in the game.
La Rochelle’s Ambition
Despite some naivety in crucial stages, La Rochelle’s ambition in attack shouldn’t be discouraged. In recent years, the future of the game was being put into doubt, with aggressive suffocating defences dominating exciting attacks.
This season in particular has seen teams who place an emphasis on attack reap rewards. Mistakes at game-defining points undermine La Rochelle’s chances of being European champions but another year to refine and build on consistency could see La Rochelle’s attacking play rewarded.
La Rochelle’s Bench
The Top14 side’s bench failed to make the impact they so desperately needed in the closing quarter. The replacements were tasked with revamping the team rather than continuing on the performance, which is a much bigger task. However, Patrice Collazo will be disappointed in his replacements’ impact.
The decision to remove scrum-half and goal-kicker Alexis Bales seems to have been a mistake with Tawera Kerr Barlow failing to order his team effectively in the closing stages. Victor Vito’s substitution created a dip in ambition and leadership going forward. Managing the match day 23 will be La Rochelle’s main thing to work on going forward.
La Rochelle’s Back Three
Gabriel Lacroix’s injury was a blow to the Top14 side, with the exciting winger a big contributor to the team’s game plan and tempo. After his substitution, La Rochelle’s ability to implement their ambitious attack was hindered greatly with the pacey winger a key cog in the side’s strategy.
Jacob Stockdale in particular stepped up after his disappointing performance against Leinster, with his physicality coming to the fore against La Rochelle’s fast but undersized back three.
Going forward, La Rochelle’s wingers are a huge positive but if they take their foot off the gas and give the opposition a chance to retaliate, their frailties are exposed.
This victory has given Ulster a lifeline in what has been an inconsistent season thus far. This Ulster team have bought their under fire management some much needed breathing room with a thrilling victory over Top14 giants La Rochelle.