On December 8, Gloucester Rugby defeated La Rochelle 35-14 at Kingsholm and the French outfit responded by winning their next 14 matches.
Were it not for a 29-25 loss at Lyon last weekend, the Top 14’s surprise leaders would have been victorious in every game in every competition since their European Rugby Challenge Cup pool loss to Gloucester.
In the first match of their lengthy unbeaten run, La Rochelle gained instant revenge over the Cherry & Whites by beating them 42-13 at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
And on Saturday evening, Gloucester and La Rochelle lock horns once again on the western coast of France, with a place in next month’s Edinburgh final on the line.
The two teams are no strangers, having also met in the 2015-16 pool stages, and Gloucester prop Paddy McAllister says that his side are geared up for a fierce semi-final battle against Les Maritimes.
“We’re definitely the underdogs but Gloucester Rugby have always done better against the big teams,” said the 27-year-old, whose side are currently eighth in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) April 18, 2017
“We’ve played them in Europe in the last two seasons and they’re the most physical team that you’ll come up against – their forwards are massive, so you have to be ready to go toe-to-toe with them.
“We’re going to put a plan in place to try and test them, but it’s going to be an 80-minute job.
“You don’t go 10 points clear in the Top 14 if you’re not an 80-minute team but it’s cup rugby and we’re no pushovers.”
La Rochelle’s head coach Patrice Collazo won the 2005-06 Challenge Cup with the Cherry & Whites.
When arriving at Kingsholm in the summer of 2015, McAllister joined another Gloucester team fresh from winning the competition and the former Ulster man would love to be part of a second Challenge Cup success in the space of three years.
“I saw the impact that it had on the whole team and the city of Gloucester,” said McAllister, who has made 26 starts and six appearances off the bench so far this season.
“We all play rugby for the opportunity to win trophies and it’s also important to get that spot for the Champions Cup.
“I’d love to win some silverware this season and the first step of that is beating La Rochelle on Saturday.”
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