Valiant Bristol Bears exit Challenge Cup at La Rochelle
Bristol Bears’ run in this season’s Challenge Cup came to an end on Sunday as they were beaten 39-15 at La Rochelle.
Faced with a sizeable task against the formidable hosts, Pat Lam’s side fell behind early on to Grégory Alldritt’s early score, before conceding a further three tries to trail 29-10 at the break.
Man of the Match Vincent Rattez added to La Rochelle’s advantage in the second half, with Piers O’Conor grabbing a late consolation for the visitors.
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) March 31, 2019
Playing with a score to settle after their home defeat to Bears in the group stages, the hosts roared out of the traps, taking the lead with just ten minutes on the clock through France international Alldritt’s finish from the back of a driving maul.
La Rochelle continued to excel at the set-piece, and had their second score of the afternoon ten minutes later when a dominant five-metre scrum resulted in a penalty try.
Rattez, a threat with ball in hand throughout, was tormenting the visitors, and the full-back played a key role in Les Maritimes’ third, scorching through a gap to send Geoffrey Doumayrou clear on 27 minutes.
Steven Luatua crashed through at the base of the posts to claw back some valuable points, but that served to only partially stem the tide on the Atlantic coast.
On the stroke of half-time, Wiaan Liebenberg dived over following another scintillating Rattez break as La Rochelle took a 29-10 lead into the interval.
Bristol needed a second-half miracle, and although that did not come, the Bears improved after the break to gain more of a foothold both in possession and in terms of territory.
Their resistance lasted until the 72nd minute when Rattez produced another sublime moment to get the try his exceptional performance deserved.
Dancing round two men, the back then sped clear to finally get his own name on the scoresheet.
O’Conor dotted down in the left-hand corner just before the final whistle, but by then the damage was done and La Rochelle will host Sale Sharks in the semi-finals next month.