Gloucester 16-27 La Rochelle: French side advance to European Champions Cup last eight after scores from Dillyn Leyds and Arthur Retiere help take out Cherry and Whites
- Gloucester has left this season’s European Champions Cup tournament
- The 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 lead the way
Gloucester suffered a tough Champions Cup knockout by a massive La Rochelle side on Friday night – ending any hopes of an unlikely European title challenge in this transitional season.
The West Country club had been lucky enough to earn a place in the eighth finals after a beating in the group of 55-10 in Lyon. This bonus match at the sharp end of the continent’s main event was a welcome distraction from a tough Premiership campaign, but George Skivington’s tenacity was eventually seen by French opponents, bolstered by firepower in the Southern Hemisphere.
Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit was ruled out with a tight hamstring just before kickoff, but even his last division may not have made enough of a difference as La Rochelle overpowered their English rivals to set a quarter-final home against one of both. Scarlets of Sale. Gloucester must focus on maintaining their recent, provisional resurgence of the league after a grim string of losses in the middle of winter.
La Rochelle is in the last eight of the European Champions Cup after beating Gloucester
South African fullback Dillyn Leyds scored the first attempt of the game after eight minutes
Eddie Jones was in attendance and the England coach saw Jonny May go through a frustrating night in which he had nothing to see for a handful of half chances. The standout player in Gloucester was Mark Atkinson, who had a strong, smart, skillful midfield presence, but is unlikely to qualify for a call-up at the age of 31.
This looked like a possible mismatch, with Gloucester 11th in the Premiership and La Rochelle second in the Top 14. But Gloucester fought the good fight and 11 points through impressive England Under 20 fly-half George Barton – three penalties and a conversion – meant that this was never a procession for Ronan O’Gara’s multinational force.
Barton put the home team ahead in the third minute, but La Rochelle soon ignited. Their first try came when ex-Saracen Will Skelton released Kevin Gourdon, who climbed to the hostess’s 22nd and off-loaded for Dillyn Leyds to score. The visitors struck again in the 23rd minute when Levani unleashed Botia’s over-head pass Arthur Retiere to land in the right corner.
Youngster George Barton kept the scoreboard ticking with some fantastic kicks on goal
La Rochelle extended their lead after Arthur Retiere found the tryline in the 22nd minute
Gloucester closed the gap with Ruan Ackermann who scored to the jubilant mood of Jordy Reid
Gloucester came back, however, and just after the half hour, Atkinson made two telling carries in a sustained attack from the home side, sending Barton to the line with ringing motions. From the ensuing ruck, Ruan Ackermann pushed his way forward and Barton repented.
Just before half-time, La Rochelle got another attempt out of the way by the TV game official, so Gloucester was – somehow – just two points behind at half-time.
Nine minutes into the second half, captain Lewis Ludlow was convicted of killing the ball on a ruck when Gloucester scrambled for their posts. Ihaia West landed his second penalty and a third came shortly afterwards when La Rochelle used their high-quality reserves to turn the tide. Jules Plisson kicked two more penalties – the first from nearly halfway – as O’Gara’s men finally slammed their advantage to reach the last eight.
“We were not a million miles away,” said Skivington, encouraged by his team’s defeat. “The main difference was that they took their chances and we left some behind.” When asked who Jones might be looking at, he added, “I think Lewis Ludlow should be on the radar and Ruan Ackermann has also raised his hand recently.”
Jules Favre thought he was added to the scoreboard, but TMO did not allow the visitor’s attempt
La Rochella’s victory on Good Friday cemented their status as the top contender for the title