La Rochelle advance to the European Champions Cup last eight

Gloucester 16-27 La Rochelle: French side advance to the European Champions Cup last eight after scores from Dillyn Leyds and Arthur Retiere help eliminate Cherry and Whites

  • Gloucester have exited this season’s European Champions Cup tournament 
  • High-flying French side La Rochelle proved too powerful for the English side 
  • Young George Barton’s kicking kept the hosts in the game until the end
  • However, the Cherry and Whites were unable to edge themselves in front 

Gloucester suffered a heavyweight Champions Cup knock-out at the hands of a massive La Rochelle side on Friday night – to end any hope of an improbable European title challenge in this season of transition.

The West Country club had been fortunate to earn a place in the round of 16 after suffering a 55-10 pool-stage drubbing in Lyon. This bonus fixture at the sharp end of the continent’s premier event was a welcome diversion from a tough Premiership campaign, but George Skivington’s tenacious side were eventually seen off by French opponents reinforced by southern hemisphere firepower.

Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit was ruled out with a tight hamstring just before kick-off but even his finishing class may not have made enough of a difference, as La Rochelle overpowered their English rivals to set up a home quarter-final against either the Scarlets or Sale. Gloucester are left to focus on maintaining their recent, tentative league revival, after a grim mid-winter losing streak.

La Rochelle are in the last eight of the European Champions Cup after beating Gloucester

South African full-back Dillyn Leyds scored the first try of the game after eight minutes

Eddie Jones was in attendance and the England head coach saw Jonny May endure a frustrating night when he had nothing to show for a handful of half-chances. The stand-out Gloucester player was centre Mark Atkinson, who was a strong, shrewd, skilful presence in midfield, but at 31 he is unlikely to be considered for a call-up.

This had the look of a potential mismatch, with Gloucester lying 11th in the Premiership and La Rochelle second in the Top 14. But Gloucester fought the good fight and 11 points by impressive England Under 20 fly-half George Barton – three penalties and a conversion – meant this was never a procession for Ronan O’Gara’s multi-national force.

Barton put the home side ahead in the third minute but La Rochelle soon ignited. Their first try came when ex-Saracen Will Skelton released Kevin Gourdon, who surged into the hosts’ 22 and off-loaded for Dillyn Leyds to score. The visitors struck again in the 23rd minute when Levani Botia’s over-head pass released Arthur Retiere to touch down in the right corner.

Youngster George Barton kept the scoreboard ticking with some superb kicking at goal

La Rochelle extended their advantage after Arthur Retiere found the tryline in the 22nd minute

Gloucester closed the gap with Ruan Ackermann scoring to the jubilation of Jordy Reid

Back came Gloucester though and just after the half-hour, Atkinson made two telling carries in a sustained onslaught by the home team and sent Barton jinking to the line. From the ensuing ruck, Ruan Ackermann forced his way over and Barton converted.

Just before half-time, La Rochelle had another try ruled out by the television match official, so Gloucester – somehow – were just two points adrift at the break.

Nine minutes into the second half, home captain Lewis Ludlow was sin-binned for killing the ball at a ruck as Gloucester scrambled in front of their posts. Ihaia West landed his second penalty and a third came soon after as La Rochelle deployed their high-calibre reserves to turn the screw. Jules Plisson kicked two more penalties – the first from close to halfway – as O’Gara’s men eventually rammed home their advantage to reach the last eight.

‘We weren’t a million miles away,’ said Skivington, who was heartened by his team’s performance in defeat. ‘The main difference was that they took their chances and we left a few out there.’ Asked who Jones might have his eye on, he added: ‘I think Lewis Ludlow should be on the radar and Ruan Ackermann has also put his hand up recently.’

Jules Favre thought he added to the scoreboard but TMO disallowed the visitor’s try

La Rochella’s win on Good Friday reinforced their status as a top contender for the title

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