La Rochelle top pool after nervy win

La Rochelle booked a spot in the Champions Cup quarter-finals but are set for a road trip in the knockouts after a 16-7 win over Harlequins.

It wasn't pretty and at times the hosts were nervous and full of errors, but to qualify for the last eight is a huge feat for the French outfit.

They scored two tries in this home win, through Pierre Aguillon and Kini Murimurivalu, with Alexi Bales kicking two penalties off the tee.

For Harlequins they can take a lot from their performance on the road with Danny Care scoring their try, but ultimately bow out at this stage.

La Rochelle knew they needed a favour from Wasps if they were to finish top of their pool and at the break everything was going perfectly. The hosts led 13-0 in a rather one-sided half of rugby in France while Wasps were also in front, 14-7, against Ulster in the other match.

It was all La Rochelle in the early stages and a Bales penalty saw them take a deserved 3-0 lead on five minutes, with Quins then losing lock George Merrick to injury. Merrick hobbled off in a further setback for the visiting side as they'd lost prop Kyle Sinckler before kick-off.

La Rochelle were sensing a big win and opted for tries over shots at goal thereafter, with penalties going to the corner. But Quins managed to stand form after a sustained spell, despite the offences racking up against them. Referee George Clancy started to lose patience.

Finally though on 21 minutes the defence was breached as space was created on the right wing for Aguillon to finish in the corner for 8-0, with that becoming 13-0 two minutes before the break as Victor Vito and Dany Priso combined to send Murimurivalu over on the left wing.

Everything was going to plan for La Rochelle, both at home and in Coventry, but when Care sniped over on 47 minutes to make it 13-7, the tension mounted at Stade Marcel Deflandre. Bales' second penalty did put them two scores ahead but Quins continued to bang on the door.

Like last week at Ulster, La Rochelle appeared to go into their shell as the contest reached its final quarter, with Harlequins very much on top and pressing for a score that would further crank up the pressure in France.

Fortunately for the hosts they managed to keep them at bay, claiming a hard-fought 16-7 victory that sees them finish at the pool summit.

The scorers:

For La Rochelle:
Tries: Aguillon, Murimurivalu
Pens: Bales 2

For Harlequins:
Try: Care
Con: Smith

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Jérémy Sinzelle, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Afaesetiti Amosa, 6 Levani Botia, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Jason Eaton (c), 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Mohamed Boughanmi, 19 William Demotte, 20 Romain Sazy, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Benjamin Noble, 23 Eliott Roudil

Harlequins: 15 Ian Prior, 14 Ross Chisholm, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 James Lang, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Archie White, 6 James Chisholm, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 George Merrick, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Dave Ward (c), 1 Lewis Boyce
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Josh McNulty, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Dino Lamb, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Joe Marchant, 23 Aaron Morris

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Television match official: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)