MATCH REPORT | La Rochelle 24-10 Saracens Men
Saracens Men had their Heineken Champions Cup dream ended at the Quarter-Final stage as they were beaten 24-10 by a clinical La Rochelle outfit at Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Mark McCall’s side had a whole host of chances and dominated for large periods, but they were ultimately undone by the reigning champions who won the battle at the breakdown and eventually ground out the win.
Sarries struggled with their discipline in the early exchanges and La Rochelle punished them, as Antoine Hastoy kicked two penalties to give the hosts a 6-0 lead with five minutes played.
HIs third attempt came back off the post, and then the Londoners burst in to life with their free-flowing play starting to threaten the try-line.
Sean Maitland’s brilliant kick chase earned them a turnover, and then Alex Lozowski almost squeezed through a gap in the defence but he was hauled down inside the 22.
They came even closer when Max Malins pounced on a loose ball and combined nicely with Lozowski who kicked a neat grubber through towards Maitland, but as play developed the referee awarded the visitors a penalty and Owen Farrell made no mistake from in front of the posts to cut the deficit to three points.
Hastoy got another chance on the 23 minute mark when Sarries were caught at the breakdown, and he was successful this time as the hosts edged 9-3 ahead in front of their raucous fans.
Malins then calved out another chance when he took a quick penalty and caught the defence napping, his excellent dummy was then followed by a pop pass to Farrell, but unfortunately as he offloaded to Maro Itoje the ball bounced out of his grasp.
La Rochelle then showed their clinical edge as they crossed with their first major chance of the match. They went through the phases and got ever closer to the line, before Tawera Kerr Barlow’s dummy made space at the edge of the breakdown and he could race clear from 15 metres to dive over. Hastoy added the extras as their lead grew to 16-3.
Ivan van Zyl almost got Sarries back in the game when Lozowski gathered a high ball and popped it up to him, but the defence scrambled back and the hosts once again poached the ball at the breakdown.
La Rochelle smelt blood and kicked another penalty to the corner in the final play of the half, but in a huge moment it went forward and the visitors could kick the ball out for half time, keeping them in the game as they went down the tunnel trailing by 13 points.
Sarries hung in the fight at the start of the second half with their defensive work admirable, and then came a golden chance with a five metre lineout to get within touching distance, but the maul was pulled down and then the hosts managed to turn the ball over with the try-line in eyesight.
The chances kept coming, and this time it was Alex Goode who almost got on the outside of the defence with an overlap on the left but once again the ball didn’t quite go to hand and the hosts escaped.
La Rochelle then took a giant step towards the semi-final with 20 minutes to go as Kerr Barlow crossed for his second of the afternoon. Some loose ball gave them plenty of space in open play and a dummy saw them charge in to the 22, with the final pass allowing the scrum half to dive over from close range. The conversion went wide, but now the lead was up to 21-3.
Eroni Mawi then got Sarries a lifeline as he scored from just a metre out after a brief check with the TMO, and Farrell’s conversion cut the gap to 11 points.
Another penalty at the breakdown for the French side meant another opportunity for Hastoy from the tee, and he was successful again to make it 24-10 with 10 minutes remaining.
The hosts were then reduced to 14 men as Brice Dulin was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Alex Lewington who had the try-line at his mercy, but from the lineout they were held up over the line as the opportunity passed.
Tom Woolstencroft was sent to the bin for a dangerous clearout at the ruck, and La Rochelle nearly capitalised when Yoan Tanga charged over but fortunately it was called back by the TMO.
That proved to be the final chapter of a win which sends La Rochelle in to the last four.