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Champions Cup: La Rochelle 47-28 Exeter Chiefs – holders power into final

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Henry Slade shows his disappointment as Exeter go out out of the Champions Cup
Exeter enjoyed a superb run to the semi-finals but came up against an inspired La Rochelle
La Rochelle: (26) 47
Tries: Rhule 2, Seuteni, Alldritt, Kerr-Barlow 2, Bourgarit Cons: Hastoy 6
Exeter Chiefs: (7) 28
Tries: S Simmonds, Iosefa-Scott, Woodburn, Yeandle Cons: J Simmonds 4

Exeter Chiefs’ bid to reach the Champions Cup final was ended by a ruthless semi-final display by holders La Rochelle in Bordeaux.

Sam Simmonds gave Exeter an early lead but Raymond Rhule, UJ Seuteni, Gregory Aldritt and Tawera Kerr-Barlow gave the hosts a commanding 26-7 half-time lead.

Rhule and Kerr-Barlow both scored again and Pierre Bourgarit also went over as the hosts ran Exeter ragged.

Josh Iosefa-Scott, Olly Woodburn and Jack Yeandle replied for Exeter.

Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle will face Leinster – the team they beat to lift the trophy last year – in the final in Dublin on 20 May.

Exeter undone by La Rochelle power

UJ Seuteni scores
UJ Seuteni scored one of his side’s four tries in the first half

With so many Exeter players set to leave the club at the end of the season, their European Cup run was billed as the last dance for the team that lifted the trophy in 2020.

Number eight Simmonds, one of the standout stars from that triumph, gave Exeter the perfect start by bursting over from close range.

But the hosts, backed by a raucous crowd at a packed out Matmut Atlantique stadium, responded almost immediately. Left wing Rhule sped onto a deft kick into empty space, hacked on and dived over the line.

La Rochelle’s giant pack took control of the game, dominating the scrum and the breakdown, and centre Sueteni’s angled run through a gap in Exeter’s defence put the hosts into the lead.

Olly Woodburn put his body on the line to hold up Gregory Alldritt’s claim for a try, but Exeter’s chances were dealt a huge blow when hooker Dan Frost was sent to the sin-bin for bringing down a maul.

With the Chiefs down to 14, France number eight Alldritt picked up the ball from the base of a scrum and waltzed over unopposed on the blind-side and then Tawera Kerr-Barlow finished off a superb team move to notch the hosts’ fourth try just before the interval.

La Rochelle show class in carnival atmosphere

Raymond Rhule scores his second try
Rhule scored La Rochelle’s fifth try early on in the second half

Exeter ‘s hopes of a second-half comeback did not last long as Antoine Hastoy’s cross-field kick found Rhule in space and the wing dived over for his second try.

Hooker Bourgarit was next to touch down following a line-out maul as the hosts clinched their place in the final for a third straight year with almost 40 minutes remaining.

With the crowd – dominated by La Rochelle fans – creating a carnival atmosphere, the French side showed all their attacking flair with a superb sixth try.

Player of the match Seuteni produced a no-look 30-yard pass to kick-start a flowing move that ended with scrum-half Kerr-Barlow powering over for his second try.

To their credit, Exeter did not totally collapse and scored three tries to give their fans something to cheer, but the brilliance of La Rochelle’s display sets up a dream final against a Leinster side many have seen as favourites for the title all season.

Line-ups

La Rochelle: Dulin; Leyds, Seuteni, Favre, Rhule; Hastoy, Kerr-Barlow; Wardi, Bourgarit, Atonio, Sazy, Skelton, Dillane, Botia, Alldritt (capt).

Replacements: Lespiaucq, Sclavi, Colombe Reazel, Lavault, Boudehent, Bourdeau, Berjon, Thomas.

Exeter: Wyatt; Nowell (capt), Slade, O’Brien, Woodburn; J Simmonds, Becconsall; Sio, Frost, Street, Kirsten, Gray, Vermeulen, Tshiunza, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Yeandle, Abuladze, Iosefa-Scott, Davis, Ewers, Townsend, Skinner, Hogg

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

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