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17th Dec 2022

Ulster fans seething as ‘official delegation’ from La Rochelle allowed into closed-doors game

Patrick McCarry

‘Levels of rage are off the charts’

Fighting for their Champions Cup lives after a dreadful start against Sale Sharks, Ulster were pushed into playing their pool match against reigning champions La Rochelle in Dublin.

The Kingspan Stadium pitch was deemed frozen and unsafe to play on, on Friday evening, and a contingency plan was put in place by the tournament organisers, the EPCR. The match would be moving to Dublin, Ulster announced in a short statement, with the news confirmed on Saturday morning that Aviva Stadium would play host.

With all of Ireland starting to thaw out after a stretch of freezing temperatures, Ulster Rugby had pushed for the game to be delayed until Sunday so they could host the match at Kingspan Stadium. The EPCR rejected that proposal and both sides were on their way to Dublin. A statement, in part, noted:

‘Regrettably, because of issues with logistics, as well as concerns over spectator health and safety due to the timing of the venue change, the match will be played behind closed doors with no access for the paying public.’

Less than 400 people were at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, but La Rochelle had the most support even though they were the ‘away’ side:

‘Official delegation’

As La Rochelle finished their warm-up, a cacophony could be heard from the lower stand. Sure enough, there was a bank of La Rochelle supporters decked out in the club colours of yellow and black.

A spokesperson from the EPCR stated that the grouping were not La Rochelle fans but part of an ‘official delegation’ from the club.

Jonny Petrie, chief executive of Ulster Rugby, was quick to point out that the inclusion of this La Rochelle ‘official delegation’ was at the behest of the tournament organisers:

Needless to say, many Ulster fans are seething with the set-up and have taken to social media to share their “rage” at the EPCR.

UlsterLa Rochelle supporters during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool B Round 2 match between Ulster and La Rochelle at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara was taking the game in from behind the Ulster posts, in the first half.

The former Munster and Ireland outhalf is currently serving a touchline ban for Top 14 games, but was taking advantage of the lack of crowds to get a different vantage point of the action.

As for the game itself, La Rochelle were well on top at half-time, with Antoine Halstoy kicking 19 points, scoring a try himself and Brice Dulin scoring another.

Ulster rallied in the second half to ended up losing, but at least with a try-scoring and a losing bonus point.

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