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La Rochelle maul Ulster on home European Cup debut

© AFP | La Rochelle centre Levani Botia (C) runs with the ball during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between La Rochelle and Ulster on October 22, 2017 at the Marcel Deflandre stadium in La Rochelle, France

LA ROCHELLE (FRANCE) (AFP) - 

La Rochelle marked their first home match in the European Champions Cup with a five-try 41-17 rout of Ulster on Sunday as their second successive win kept them on course for the quarter-finals.

The Top 14 side, who saw off Harlequins 34-27 last weekend, lead Pool 1 with 10 points from their back-to-back bonus point wins.

La Rochelle had only led 13-10 at the interval with Jeremy Sinzelle scoring his team's only try while Christian Lealiifano levelled for 7-7.

Alexi Bales popped over two penalties while the boot of Lealiifano kept Ulster, who started their campaign with a 19-9 win over Wasps, in touch.

But La Rochelle racked up 28 unanswered points in the second half with Victor Vito, Kevin Gourdon, Pierre Aguillon and Jason Eaton all grabbing tries while Tommy Bowe went over for a consolation score for the visitors.

In Pool 3, Exeter stunned French heavyweights Montpellier 27-24, overturning a 17-10 half-time deficit.

Flanker Don Armand scored two tries with centre Ian Whitten adding a third as Exeter stayed second in the group, two points behind three-time champions Leinster who enjoyed a 34-18 win at Glasgow on Saturday, their second successive bonus point victory.

Montpellier at least claimed two bonus points with Nemani Nadolo (2), Joe Tomane and Benoit Paillaugue scoring tries.

The match at Montpellier was also significant as Irish assistant referee Joy Neville became the first female official to be involved in a Champions Cup game.

"With two defeats, it's become complicated," admitted skipper Louis Picamoles whose Montpellier team are already seven points behind Leinster.

"We are far enough behind, but we will not let go. We have four games left and as long as we are not officially eliminated, we will not give up."

On Saturday, defending champions Saracens battled back from a 10-point deficit to edge Ospreys 36-34.

Saracens, chasing a third successive title, were 17-7 down to their Welsh guests but despite running in five tries and staying ahead for the majority of the second period, Ospreys kept hitting back.

The Welshmen finished with four tries and two bonus points although Saracens still sit top of Pool 2 with 10 points having started their campaign with a 57-13 thumping of Northampton last week.

Chris Wyles, Schalk Brits, Liam Williams and replacement centre Nick Tompkins scored for Saracens.

Their other score was a penalty try awarded for a deliberate knock-on by the impressive Dan Evans who was sin-binned for his troubles.

In his absence, Ospreys conceded 12 points which proved decisive in the final analysis.

In the same pool, French international fly-half Camille Lopez was stretchered off with a broken left ankle in Clermont's 24-7 win over Northampton.

The 28-year-old Lopez was writhing in agony after a clash with a Northampton player in the first half and has been ruled out for five months.

The 16-times capped Lopez will miss the autumn internationals as well as the Six Nations.

Two-time champions Leicester Tigers demolished Castres 54-29 at Welford Road having lost their Pool 4 opener 22-18 at Racing 92.

Leicester ran in seven tries, including a hat-trick by Tongan winger Telusa Vieanu, taking a bonus point in the process.

Munster, also two-time champions, edged Racing 14-7 in a game which was deadlocked at 0-0 on the hour mark.

Scrum-half Conor Murray and replacement winger Andrew Conway crossed for two converted tries before the French side grabbed a losing bonus point with a late try from lock Leone Nakarawa.

French fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc kicked a last-minute penalty as three-time champions Toulon escaped humiliation by edging out Italian minnows Treviso 30-29.

Bath lead Pool 5 after seeing off Scarlets 18-13 in Wales on Friday night.

© 2017 AFP