La Rochelle bag home semi-final
EURO CHALLENGE CUP REPORT: La Rochelle are still on for a possible Challenge Cup and Top 14 double, after making it 13 wins in a row in all competitions.
It is also seven on the bounce on the road, after they scored a 32-22 win at Murrayfield.
Six weeks out from the European Final weekend in the Scottish capital the French side bagged themselves a home semifinal against either Gloucester or Cardiff Blues and must now fancy their chances of returning to the home of Scottish rugby on Friday, May 12.
They came into the game with a huge lead in the TOP 14 and brim full of confidence. They soaked up the first few minutes of home pressure before exploding into action via their driving line-out.
Twice in the space of six minutes hooker Jeremie Maurouard was propelled over the Edinburgh line and Brock James, who started the game when Zach Holmes pulled up lame in the warm-up, converted both to make it 14 points in as many minutes.
Edinburgh were all at sea in the opening quarter, but they managed to settle the ship with a great try on the wide outside by centre Phil Burleigh which Jason Tovey converted. That got them a toe-hold in the game, but La Rochelle hit back almost straight away.
French back row star Kevin Gourdon tied in two defenders and when teenage scrum half Arthur Retiere picked up five metres in from touch with 60 metres in front of him it didn't look as though there was another try in the offing.
But the France Under 20 international raced away from the first line of defence, bamboozled Blair Kinghorn on the Edinburgh 22 and then sped way to the corner.
It was a sensational score and later in the half he made the break that led to a try at the posts for wing Steeve Barry to create a 19 point gap. The next score was vital for Edinburgh and on the stroke of half-time the veteran Ross Ford crashed over in the corner after a front of the line peel to make it 26-12 at the break.
There were obviously some strong words in the Edinburgh dressing room at half-time because they came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half and grabbed the next score with a try from Heineken Man of the Match Hamish Watson. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne added the conversion and suddenly it was anyone's game.
The gap was cut to a single score on 65 minutes when replacement prop Lekso Kaulashvili picked up a yellow card and Duncan Hodge kicked the penalty. Now it was the home side who had their tails up, but they still lacked the accuracy needed to make La Rochelle pay.
In the end, two penalties from the experienced James saw La Rochelle home and put them into their first European semi-final. The Challenge Cup went to Montpellier last year - will it stay in France for another season?
Tries: Burleigh, Ford, Watson
Cons: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne
For La Rochelle:
Tries:Maurouard 2, Retiere, Barry
Cons: James 3
Pen: James 2
Yellow card: Lekso Kaulashvili (La Rochelle, 64 - foul play, early tackle)
Edinburgh: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Damien Hoyland, 13 Chris Dean, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Tom Brown, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Viliame Mata, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Ross Ford (captain), 1 Murray McCallum.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Kyle Whyte, 18 Kevin Bryce, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Viliami Fihaki, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Glenn Bryce.
La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Steeve Barry, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Eliott Roudil, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Arthur Retière, 8 Kévin Gourdon, 7 Levani Botia, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Jason Eaton (captain), 3 Mohamed Boughanmi, 2 Jérémie Maurouard, 1 Mike Corbel.
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Lekso Kaulashvili, 19 Jone Qovu, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Alexi Bales, 22 Brock James, 23 Benjamin Noble.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Ian Tempest (England), Simon McConnell (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)