Five Things you may not know about Wasps v La Rochelle
La Rochelle are the coming force in French rugby, and they visit the Ricoh Arena this Sunday. Find out more about the Top 14 leaders and hear from Dai Young and Joe Launchbury about a match which promises to be a thrilling clash here.
Top of the tree
La Rochelle may not have the European Champions Cup backstory of Toulon, Toulouse or Clermont, but they are undoubtedly the coming force in French rugby.
Les Maritimes, as Patrice Collazo’s club are known, finished at the summit of the Top 14 at the end of the regular season last May, before failing to lift the title in the play-offs.
They have since gone on to prove 2016/17 was no flash in the pan by racing to the top of the table again after 12 rounds of the current campaign.
And they have further underlined their credentials by claiming three consecutive bonus point wins in Europe – the only team in the competition to have done so.
The story so far
Last weekend’s meeting at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre was the first ever between La Rochelle and Wasps, and it delivered an 11-try spectacular.
This meant that despite losing 49-29, Wasps claimed a try bonus point, which leaves them with six points after three rounds of action.
Dai Young’s men claimed all five points in round two when old rivals Harlequins visited Coventry, after previously leaving Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium pointless in round one.
Since the European Champions Cup began life in its current format three years ago, quarter-final qualification has required a minimum of 16 points.
With two home games to come, and 15 points still at stake, Sunday’s return fixture with La Rochelle is therefore a crucial encounter.
Dai Young’s view
“La Rochelle were certainly the best team I have coached against in Europe.
“They showed some real class; when they got on the front foot some of their offloads were fantastic and they have the physicality to punch it up as well.
“We knew they were going to be a quality team, but we gifted them a few points as well which didn’t help, and I saw enough today to feel confident going into next week.
“We know we will have to defend against that onslaught again, but if we can get hold of the ball, get a better start then we can try to open them up again in the final 20 minutes as we did here.
“The try bonus point is massive for us, but we have to back it up with a win next week. We have to get a better start, if we are still in the game at 60 minutes then I’m confident we can come away with a win.”
A clash of titans
The Ricoh Arena faithful will see their Wasps favourites go head-to-head with some notable performers.
These are headed by All Black No.8 Victor Vito, who played his 33rd and final international during the 2017 World Cup, since when he has joined countryman Jason Eaton on France’s Atlantic Coast.
Powerhouse back Rene Ranger is another former All Black, as is La Rochelle’s newly-arrived scrum half Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who could make his debut this Sunday.
Les Maritimes also have two well-known fly half options, in veteran Australian Brock James and Ryan Lamb, who has seen action with five Aviva Premiership clubs.
Collazo’s enormous pack is headed by French international tight head Uini Atonio, who the BBC named as the biggest player in the 2015 World Cup.
The 28-times-capped No.3 is 6ft 6, and tips the scales at nearly 25 stone according to his player profile.
How Joe Launchbury sees it
“Our discipline and execution let us down in France. There were a couple of yellow cards and a couple of charge downs and against a quality side like that it was always going to be an uphill battle.
“Their intensity in attack, their offloads and power runners are some of the best I’ve played against.
“They have been a quality side for the last few years, their domestic form has been very strong and they have taken that into Europe. They are no secret to us, they have got a team packed full of great players and we expect much the same next week.
“I thought we dealt with it pretty well, and there is certainly enough to suggest we can get a win at the Ricoh Arena.
“That try bonus-point was the least we needed to take away from this game and we will see in a few weeks how important it is.
“We love playing at home, it is a big game and we will give it a good go. It will be a great challenge for us and I’m sure it will be a great game to watch." Tickets for Sunday's match, which kicks off at 1pm, are available online by clicking the link below, or by phone on 02476 786411.
Prices start at £22 for adults, while under 10s go free in selected areas.