Injury to outhalf West a concern for O’Gara and La Rochelle
Reserve outhalf Plisson already out of action with a hamstring injury as big Leinster clash looms
Ihaia West: suffered a shoulder injury while scoring a try during La Rochelle’s French Top 14 win over Lyon at the Marcel Deflandre Stadium in La Rochelle. Photograph: Xavier Leoty/AFP/Getty Images
Their regular, first-choice ‘10’ Ihaia West was forced off at the end of the first-half of La Rochelle’s 38-23 home win over Lyon on Saturday with a shoulder injury, and they are already missing his regular understudy and their only other recognised outhalf, Jules Plisson, with a hamstring injury.
Jules Le Bail, ostensibly a scrumhalf albeit French half-backs tend to be able to play at both ‘9’ and ‘10’ effortlessly, replaced West and assumed the kicking duties in an uneven, disjointed match which La Rochelle led 33-6 after an hour before conceding three tries in the last quarter.
Darren Sweetnam made his debut when coming on for the last 20 minutes but didn’t see much of the ball.
Jono Gibbes, whose move to Clermont next season is expected to be confirmed soon, made seven changes from their 45-21 Champions Cup quarter-final win over Sale Sharks the previous week. He rested key players such as Grégory Alldritt and Levani Botia, while also leaving Will Skelton and dual World Cup winner, Victor Veto, on the bench.
A third-minute try by the South African winger Dillyn Leyds, his eighth of the season, following a deft chip by the in-form Brice Dulin and one on half-time by West – injuring his shoulder in the process – earned La Rochelle a 20-6 interval lead before a try by Geoffrey Doumayrou, who also landed a drop goal, effectively secured a 23rd win in their last 24 home matches.
Kevin Gourdon came on as a replacement and scored the fourth, after a big charge and offload by fellow replacement Skelton, but the concession of two late tries denied La Rochelle the bonus point which would have given them outright leadership of the Top 14.
They are likely to be idle next weekend as their game away to Brive next Saturday will almost certainly be postponed after an outbreak of the so-called English variant of Covid-19 in the Brive squad led to their derby away to Clermont being one of four games called off last weekend.
La Rochelle moved alongside Toulouse atop the table after the latter lost 24-22 at nearby Castres, with only two players retained from the starting XV in their Champions Cup quarter-final win away to Clermont.
One of them, 22-year-old Matthis Lebel, shifted from wing to fullback and completed a stunning length-of-the-pitch try, his 13th try of the Top 14 season to add to his try against Munster in the last 16 round.