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ProD2: "Super happy" Dambielle kicks La Rochelle into Top 14 with play-off victory

24 May 2010


La Rochelle will play in Top 14 next season after Benjamin Dambielle's unerring boot guided them to a highly entertaining 32-26 victory against Lyon OU in the ProD2 play-off final at Brive's Stade Amédée Domenech.

The former Brive and Biarritz full-back kicked six penalties and two conversions to help the 'Maritimers' overcome a blitzkrieg start by Lyon, who ran in three tries in the opening half hour.

Former London Irish and Gloucester winger James Bailey was first to cross the line when he touched down for Lyon after just three minutes to give them the perfect start.

Outside centre Cédric Leite was next over, on 18 minutes, when he capitalised on a break by fellow centre Vinaya Wakanivuga, while Bailey doubled up just six minutes later after a rare dominant scrum from Lyon. Full-back Pierre-Yves Montagnat missed the latter two conversions, but Lyon were still 20-9 to the good at that point.

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But despite conceding three tries La Rochelle remained very much in the match with their powerful earning a series of kickable penalties for Dambielle as they took their cue from Stade Toulousain's show of forward strength against Biarritz to win the Heineken Cup.

Time and again the Lyon pack crumbled in the face of La Rochelle's overwhelming power, with Dambielle kicking five first-half penalties to leave the score 20-15 at the break.

It remained like that until the 53rd minute when La Rochelle scrum-half Benjamin Ferrou burrowed over from close range after Florian Ninard had been stopped five metres short. Dambielle maintained his 100% record with a touchline conversion that gave his team the lead for the first time in the match.

Montagnat and Dambielle then exchanged penalties before Lyon replacement Eugene N'Zi was yellow carded in the 62nd minute. Montagnat kicked a further penalty two minutes later to edge Lyon 26-25 ahead but La Rochelle finally made their numerical advantage tell when winger Ninard switched with Ferrou to touch down with just nine minutes left.


Dambielle, inevitably, landed the conversion to put La Rochelle 32-26 ahead and that's how it ended. The 24-year-old full-back did eventually miss a kick when his long-range 78th-minute effort fell short, but it couldn't detract from an outstanding individual performance which garnered 22 points in all.

Dambielle graciously gave credit to his outstanding forwards after the victory, adding: "This win is for the whole group because we are a united squad."

He went on to describe himself as "super happy", but admitted that the hard work would start now as they try and prepare themselves for the huge leap in playing standards between ProD2 and Top 14. "We offer this victory to all the people of La Rochelle, who have always backed us," said Dambielle.

La Rochelle have already begun their recruitment campaign for next season, with Fijian Seru Rabeni arriving from Leeds, but more are signings are sure to be announced in the coming days.

They will be hoping to fair better than SCA Albi, who were relegated straight back down to ProD2 after winning the play-off final last season, but the challenge will be immense. In recent seasons it has taken huge financial backing to succeed after gaining promotion, with the likes of Racing-Métro and Toulon succeeding thanks to the seemingly bottomless pockets of Jacky Lorenzetti and Mourad Boudjellal respectively.

But no-one can take away their joy at winning promotion on Sunday and next season they will take their rightful place among France's elite in Top 14.


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