Pack power set to help La Rochelle boss Gloucester
Flanker Gourdon primed to profit in Challenge Cup clash
European Challenge Cup semi-final
BT Sport 3, 8pm Saturday
La Rochelle have taken the Top 14 by storm, heading the table with a ten-point buffer over heavyweights Clermont in second, and their Challenge Cup semi-final opponents Gloucester know all about the test they are about to face.
The teams met in the pool stage and although the spoils were shared the evidence on the pitch in those clashes suggest it’s very much advantage La Rochelle.
The teams went into their first meeting in Pool One unbeaten, and Gloucester pulled off an impressive 35-14 win even though the French raiders put down an early marker with their powerful set-piece.
However, Gloucester’s attacking play was driven by an influential performance by scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury and returns to the bench.
In France a week later La Rochelle made their power game count, running out 42-13 winners, and this last-four showdown could well go the same way.
Les Maritimes are unbeaten at home this season, and while there is plenty of playmaking skill in a half-back pairing of former Springbok Ricky Januarie and veteran Aussie fly-half Brock James, as well as pace out wide, the forward pack is their core strength.
Powerhouse prop Uini Atonio is an explosive runner who can build an attacking platform almost on his own and create openings for his teammates.
Back-rower Kevin Gourdon cashed in at Kingsholm and is a decent price to do so again.
The handicap is set at ten points and while La Rochelle look equipped to cover the line they may play it a little safer in a knockout game.
K Gourdon to score a try
1pt 9-2 Sky Bet