Leicester Tigers unbeaten run in the Investec Champions Cup came to an end in La Rochelle with a 45-12 defeat at the hands of the defending European champions.
La Rochelle scored seven tries to Leicester’s two in the 33-point win, including doubles for UJ Seuteni and Teddy Thomas, while Antoine Hastoy added ten points of his own from the tee.
It was a dominant first-half display for the home side, who took a 21-7 lead into the changing rooms at the break, after three converted tries in the opening 40 minutes.
Just three minutes into the match and La Rochelle were almost over for their first, if not for the last pass going to ground only yards from the Leicester line.
However only two minutes later and they had the first when Pierre Bourgarit crossed.
La Rochelle kicked for the corner from a penalty inside the Tigers half and made the visitors pay for the infringement when, after bringing down the maul and driving the maul forward, the hooker broke from the back of the pack and got across the chalk.
Antonie Hastoy’s first successful attempt of the afternoon, from out wide, made it 7-0.
Despite having few chances with the ball, Leicester continued to fight their way back into the match and were given an advantage in the 12th minute when Ultan Dillane was shown a yellow card for a head-on-head tackle up against Josh Bassett.
The ten minutes up a man didn’t prove fruitful though for Tigers who weren’t able to add to the scoreboard during the sin bin period, with the only chance coming through a missed drop goal attempt from Jamie Shillcock in the 15th minute.
La Rochelle, still down a man in attack, owned much of the possession during the first half hour and - if not for the fight from Leicester in defence - may have extended their lead while Dillane sat on the sideline.
A break, literally including a skip and a jump, from Tawera Kerr-Barlow saw the scrum-half in space and with support, however, his pass for Teddy Thomas travelled forward from the hands and resulted in the officials denying the try.
Ill-discipline from both teams meant Referee Andrew Brace’s whistle was busy for the next ten minutes.
First, La Rochelle were warned after repeated infringements but Tigers were unable to convert before, soon after, the visitors were awarded repeated penalties and Leicester received the yellow card warning.
The home side made the most of the chance to kick for the corner and after another dominant driving maul from the line out, Will Skelton broke away from the back and barged his way through defenders to score his team’s second.
Another successful Hastoy conversion made it 14-0, which only lasted five minutes after Tigers clawed one back with their first in the 36th minute.
Brave decisions from penalties to kick for the corner and pack down a scrum, instead of taking three points on offer, proved the correct choice for Leicester when George Martin pushed his way over two phases after a scrum, 5m out from the La Rochelle line.
Jamie Shillcock converted the Martin try from out wide to make it a seven-point, 14-7, game with only two minutes remaining in the first half.
But it would again go back to fourteen when the home team, three minutes into the red, crossed for a third, on the back of some impressive and entertaining attacking play.
UJ Seuteni was the scorer and Hastoy converted to make it 21-7 at the break.
It took just five minutes for the first points of the second half, which secured La Rochelle the try bonus-point when Thomas was gifted a clear run to the line.
The French wing was the finisher but the try came from a dominant scrum from his forwards, putting Tigers on the back foot and Kerr Barlow broke away before throwing the ball to Thomas who took it on the bounce before going over.
Again, Hastoy was on target from the tee to see his side out to a 21-point lead.
A manic ten minutes followed, including two yellow cards for La Rochelle in as many minutes, taking them down to 13 men for eight minutes.
The disavantage in attack was no issue for the hosts though as they managed to get a fifth try in the 59th minute when replacement prop Joel Sclavi crashed over with a strong run from the back of a ruck on the Leicester line.
Hastoy’s fifth successful conversion of the game made it 35-7 with 20 minutes left on the clock.
A second try for Thomas, who finished a length of the field effort from La Rochelle, made it 40-7 with ten minutes remaining before Seuteni got his brace in the 75th minute to make it 45-7 before Dan Kelly scored with less than sixty seconds left on the clock to make the final difference 33 points, 45-12, in France.
The defeat sees Leicester finish the round level on nine competition points with DHL Stormers, but sitting in third place in Pool 4 with -21 points difference compared to the -1 for the South African outfit.
Tigers host pool leaders Leinster Rugby in the final round of the pool stages next Saturday (January 20) at Mattioli Woods Welford Road. Tickets are available HERE and selling fast, with less than 1,000 places remaining available for the fixture against the Irish side.