Botia fires La Rochelle to thrilling win over Wasps

Paris (AFP) –


Fijian flanker Levani Botia scored a brace of tries to help La Rochelle cement their place atop Pool 1 of the European Champions Cup with a thrilling 49-29 victory over Wasps on Sunday.

The win left the Top 14 leaders with three wins from three and 15 points, seven ahead of second-placed Ulster, who beat Harlequins 17-5. Wasps are third with six points.

La Rochelle's attractive style of play was there for all to see in the first half, and not many clubs will fancy having to travel to western France for a potential away quarter-final match.

The French club enjoyed 73 percent of possession and 72 percent territory, covering more than 400 metres peppered with 16 offloads and 20 Wasps defenders beaten.

It all meant for a 30-12 lead after a helter-skelter first 40 minutes.

An early Brock James penalty for the hosts was nullified by a fine Rob Miller try for the English visitors despite Welsh flanker Thomas Young picking up a yellow card for a spear tackle.

However La Rochelle responded immediately, Pierre Aguillon charging down a Danny Cipriani clearance kick for an easy riposte.

Making their numerical advantage clear, hooker Pierre Bourgarit was the next name on the scoresheet, breaking clear after a botched line-out by Wasps.

The returned Young went over in the corner, Jimmy Gopperth converting to make sure Wasps were well in the game before centre-cum-flanker Botia notched up La Rochelle's third in a great display of running rugby at a packed-out Marcel-Deflandre stadium.

Vincent Rattez touched down early in the second period for La Rochelle to guarantee an attacking bonus point.

But Wasps hit back when British and Irish Lions back Elliot Daly crossed after a great flick by Young.

With kicking a scarcity and holes beginning to appear in both defences, first an inch-perfect Ryan Lamb crosskick found Rattez in space for the winger to dot down for his second.

And then Wasps ensured their own bonus point when Daly latched on to a Cipriani kick and offloaded to Joe Simpson for an easy run-in, after which fellow replacement Martin Moore was driven over shortly after.

The outstanding Botia had the last word, however, fending off Joe Launchbury to sprint in from 40 metres.

In the other Pool 1 match, Ulster nudged past Quins in wintry London conditions thanks to four John Cooney penalties following a Jacob Stockdale try.

In the final match of the weekend, triple European champions Leinster went to Exeter and won 18-8 to open a six-point gap at the top of Pool 3. Johnny Sexton and Jack Conan touched down for the Irish team. James Short replied for the Chiefs.

But snow got the better of the much-anticipated repeat of last year's final between Saracens and Clermont, which was postponed because of what organisers called "hazardous conditions on the approach roads to Allianz Park, and in the immediate vicinity of the stadium poor weather".