ERCC: Ulster v La Rochelle Preview

Two of Europe's most attacking outfits, Ulster and La Rochelle, will lock horns in wet conditions on Saturday the 13th of January.

Pool 1’s top two slug it out at the Kingspan on Saturday to determine which side enters the final round of pool-stage matches in pole position. Ulster have had a relatively disappointing domestic season thus far, but can rectify some uninspiring recent Pro14 performances by finishing as Champions Cup pool-winners and secure a safer passage in the competition’s playoffs.

Ulster v La Rochelle | Saturday 13 January | Kingspan Stadium | 15:00

To Win (80 Mins)
Ulster 1/1| Draw 20/1 | La Rochelle 8/10

Considering the wealth of talent at Les Kiss’ disposal, 2017/18 has proven less than convincing for his Belfast-based side. Saturday’s 7-38 annihilation by Leinster was Ulster’s fourth in the Pro14 this season, and they are in serious danger of failing to qualify for the playoffs.

On the brighter side, their Champions Cup fate is very much in their own hands and a win against La Rochelle will see them head into next weekend’s encounter at Wasps within touching distance of a place in the knockouts.

That said, La Rochelle are one seriously impressive football side, and playing them is not exactly equivalent to walking your favourite Maltese Poodle a few blocks on a sunny day. Instead, it best resembles one’s attempt at controlling an excited Boerboel on a lead, while attempting to balance on a busy sidewalk in the middle of a thunderstorm. 'Les Maritimes' thrive on attacking exuberance and Ulster will need to limit their impact with ball-in-hand. Obviously.

One thing that will work in favour of the Irishmen are the conditions expected on Saturday. With thundershowers predicted, La Rochelle will struggle to impose their running brand of rugby on their opponents, and this will play into Ulster’s hands. They simply must convert every opportunity that comes their way.

La Rochelle
Having dispatched this weekend’s opponents 41-17 in October, Victor Vito’s side would ordinarily have felt confident of claiming Ulster’s scalp once again ahead of the weekend. Saturday’s frustrating draw at Top 14 bottom-feeders Oyonnax, coupled with the dismal weather expected in Belfast will certainly thrown a spanner in the works.

The French outfit will have to dig deep if they are to remain in first position at the conclusion of pool fixtures and, considering they next host lowly Harlequins next weekend, Saturday’s appointment in Belfast will present them their toughest challenge of their dominance. It will be fascinating to see just how much character this side possesses.

Verdict: Ulster 1/1
Considering how poorly La Rochelle performed the last time they played in rainy conditions (December’s 21-3 loss at Wasps), Ulster should manage to outplay the French outfit and come out on top of Pool 1 at the conclusion of the weekend.
Written by Shaun Goosen for

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