La Rochelle left Wasps with a mountain to climb to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup after beating them 49-29 in front of a packed crowd at Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Six tries from the home side earned them their third successive try bonus point and moved them nine points clear of Wasps at the top of Pool 1. The only consolation for the Premiership side was that they managed to score four tries to pick up a try bonus point themselves.
The two teams meet again at the Ricoh Arena next Sunday in what is now a must-win game for Dai Young’s side after a second away defeat in this season’s campaign.
There was an explosive start despite the wet and windy conditions and the fans were treated to 36 points and five tries in the opening 26 minutes. Brock James notched the first of the game’s 78 points with a penalty awarded after Wasps’s Wales flanker Thomas Young was sent to the sin-bin in the sixth minute for a tip tackle.
The visitors’ reaction was superb as a beautifully-constructed back-line move off the back of a scrum on the home 22 opened up a hole for full-back Rob Miller to run in the opening try in the 10th minute.
By the time Young returned to the action the Top 14 leaders had plundered 17 points. Veteran centre Pierre Aguillon conjured up an immediate response to the Miller try by racing over for a try and then hooker Pierre Bourgarit made the most of an overthrow at a Wasps line-out in their 22 to make it two tries in five minutes.
James converted both scores and Wasps were struggling to cope with the pace and power of the home side, who made it three out of three in their debut season in the Champions Cup.
Shortly after returning to the field, Young made slight amends for his yellow card by supporting a blindside raid by Dan Robson to score a try in the left corner that Jimmy Gopperth converted to cut the gap to five points and put his side back in the contest.
But by the break La Rochelle were 18 points clear at 30-12 after the sensational Fijian flanker Botia Veivuke – he played at centre for his country last month – crashed through for the first of his two tries. James added the conversion and two penalties, and Wasps’ South African centre Juan de Jongh picked up a second yellow for a deliberate knock-on.
There were six more tries in an equally explosive second half, with Wasps picking up three of them to snatch a bonus point. New French wing Vincent Rattez grabbed two for the rampant home side and Botia ended the game with a 30-metre pick-and-go try from a ruck.
Young’s brilliant pass out of a tackle set up Elliot Daly for his corner try and then Joe Simpson popped up in support of Daly, after the England wing had taken a neat chip ahead by Danny Cipriani, to race in the all-important fourth try. Replacement prop Will Stuart got his first try for the club six minutes from time with a driving line-out score to put his side in touching distance of a potential losing bonus point, but Botia’s late sprint put paid to that.
Meanwhile, Harlequins’ hopes of progression to the quarter-finals were virtually extinguished as they crashed to a third-consecutive defeat in Europe, a 17-5 loss at home to Ulster.
It was the first time since the 2009-10 season that Quins had lost three European games on the bounce and this defeat leaves them rooted to the bottom of Pool 1 with just a single point and trailing 14 points behind runaway leaders La Rochelle.
It was a miserable afternoon for Quins as their injury-ravaged squad lost Chris Robshaw and Danny Care to failed head assessments and could only manage a single try from Kyle Sinckler. Ulster were deserved winners with Jacob Stockdale scoring their try, while John Cooney added four penalties to pick up the man of the match award.
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