European Challenge Cup: Edinburgh 22-32 La Rochelle

Arthur Retiere
Scrum-half Arthur Retiere scored one try and created another for the Top 14 leaders
European Challenge Cup
Edinburgh (12) 22
Tries: Burleigh, Ford, Watson Cons: Tovey, Hidalgo-Clyne Pen: Weir
La Rochelle (26) 32
Tries: Maurouard 2, Retiere, Barry Cons: James 3 Pens: James 2

Top 14 leaders La Rochelle withstood an Edinburgh fightback to reach the European Challenge Cup semi-finals.

Jeremie Maurouard scored twice from early line-out drives, before Phil Burleigh arced over to reply.

Arthur Retiere raced in for a third, and created a fourth for Steeve Barry, with Ross Ford touching down for Edinburgh before the break.

Hamish Watson hauled the hosts back within a score, but Brock James' last-minute penalty settled the issue.

La Rochelle laid waste to Edinburgh in the early minutes. And it was easy, oh so easy. Edinburgh were a soft touch in so many areas. Blair Kinghorn's sliced kick to touch inside his own 22 was a present to one of the best mauling sides in French rugby.

They fired out their driven line-out, rumbled forward and crashed over, Maurouard getting the score.

James added the conversion and with only four minutes on the clock, Edinburgh were already in trouble. They were in the midst of a nightmare soon after. Again it was the line-out maul that did the damage, firstly in winning a penalty, which La Rochelle kicked to touch and then in pulling off a repeat of their first.

Same drive, same scorer, same man converting; 14-0 to the French league leaders.

Edinburgh had a death-wish all night, even when they roused themselves and threatened to make a comeback. Chris Dean butchered an overlap midway through the half, but they got away with that one when Burleigh went over after heavy pressure.

Jason Tovey converted, but that capacity to shoot themselves in the foot returned in horrific fashion just after.

La Rochelle scrum-half Retiere was magnificent in the first 40, a quick-thinking, darting number nine that Edinburgh did not have a clue how to deal with. It was Retiere who got his side's third try when picking up at the back of a ruck and running 60 metres to score. En route he ran through an embarrassing non-tackle from Kinghorn. All of Murrayfield winced.

Retiere was at the root of the fourth try as well. He scampered away after a brilliant offload by Kevin Gourdon, drew the cover and put Barry under the posts. James made it 26-7 and even when Ford blasted over from close range, after gorgeous hands from Viliame Mata, it still looked like curtains for Edinburgh.

Hamish Watson scores for Edinburgh
Hamish Watson was Edinburgh's stand-out player, scoring the hosts' third try

To their credit, they came out ready for the battle, nobody more so than Watson, who led the charge. The flanker got on the ball again and again. He was immense. After waves of pressure, Mata drew three tacklers to him and bounced a pass outside where Watson picked up and scored.

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne put over the conversion and now, suddenly, it was a seven-point game. Then it was a three-point game. Weir landed a penalty after Lekso Kaulashvili, the replacement prop, tackled Damian Hoyland without the ball while Edinburgh were threatening. Kaulashvili was sin-binned and Weir did the rest.

James restored the seven-point lead and the rest was painful for Edinburgh. Their line-out fell apart, their desperation grew, their play became rushed and panicked and their errors mounted.

La Rochelle wrapped it up with another James penalty. Their dream season continues. For Edinburgh, they cannot wait for the nightmare campaign to end.

Edinburgh acting head coach Duncan Hodge: "We gave ourselves a lot to do. Everything we talked about during the week, in terms of discipline and no easy entries into our 22, when we had the ball the first three times we coughed it up.

"They feed off lineout drives and unstructured play and that's what we fed them in the first 15-20 minutes.

"We should have been at 29-all. We were on their line, four-man overlap and we just don't manage to capitalise. I sound like a broken record but in the last five games there have been three like that, that we should have won. I'm gutted and I know the players are as well.

"They are the top side in France and we feel we could have and should have won."

Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland, Chris Dean, Phil Burleigh, Tom Brown, Jason Tovey, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Murray McCallum, Ross Ford (capt), Simon Berghan, Anton Bresler, Grant Gilchrist, Viliame Mata, Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Kyle Whyte, Kevin Bryce, Fraser McKenzie, Viliami Fihaki, Nathan Fowles, Duncan Weir, Glenn Bryce.

La Rochelle: Kini Murimurivalu, Steeve Barry, Paul Jordaan, Pierre Aguillon, Eliott Roudil, Brock James, Arthur Retiere; Mike Corbel, Jeremie Maurouard, Mohamed Boughanmi, Jason Eaton (capt), Mathieu Tanguy, Romain Sazy, Levani Botia, Kevin Gourdon.

Replacements: Hikairo Forbes, Dany Priso, Lekso Kaulashvili, Leandro Cedaro, Victor Vito, Alexi Bales, Vincent Rattez, Benjamin Noble.

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