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Ulster halt La Rochelle to lead European pool

© AFP | La Rochelle could have ensured a place in the last eight with a win but will enter the final round of games trailing Ulster

LONDON (AFP) - 

Ulster moved top of Pool 1 in the European Champions Cup with an impressive 20-13 home victory over La Rochelle on Saturday.

Exeter inflicted another setback for French hopes when they crushed visiting Montpellier, 41-10 at Sandy Park later in the afternoon.

La Rochelle could have ensured a place in the last eight with a win but will enter the final round of games trailing Ulster, who leapfrogged the French side with the win, by a single point.

The victory represented a rapid change in form by Ulster, thrashed 38-7 away to Leinster in the Pro14 last week.

"Today we knew that we had to do better against a team as good as La Rochelle," try-scorer Rory Best said after the match. "We showed the determination and resilience of our side."

In the later game, Dave Ewers scored a 28th minute try to give the Chiefs a narrow half-time lead.

Montpellier cracked after the break as Exeter scored five tries in 19 minutes, the pick of them two acrobatic touchdowns in the left corner by Olly Woodburn.

Exeter helped themselves, climbing to second in Pool 3, a point ahead of Montpellier, but they might have helped Leinster, who can now clinch first place when they host Glasgow on Sunday, even more.

In Belfast, La Rochelle took an early lead with a pair of penalties from Alexi Bales but then lost Paul Jordaan to a yellow card for tackling an opponent in the air.

Against 14 men, Ulster scored a try, touched down by hooker Best after a driving maul.

With La Rochelle back to full strength, Ulster scored again as Jacob Stockdale plunged over near the corner flag. John Cooney missed both conversions in the wind but Ulster led 10-6 at the break.

La Rochelle hit back three minutes into the second half with a try by Bales, who converted. Ulster responded two minutes later with a score from No. 8 Nick Timoney. This time Cooney converted and he added a penalty in the 50th minute to finish the scoring.

In the final round next weekend, Ulster travel to Wasps while La Rochelle host another English club, Harlequins.

© 2018 AFP