Lawes injured and key duo sent off as Saints suffer costly defeat to La Rochelle

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Fraser Dingwall and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto were sent off as Saints suffered a costly 31-13 defeat to La Rochelle at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday afternoon.

Dingwall was dismissed for head-on-head contact just before half-time and Salakaia-Loto was red carded a forearm to the head during one of the final acts of the game.

There was also a sizeable injury blow as England star Courtney Lawes had to come off injured 30 minutes into the match.

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Saints are now set to be without all three players for the huge Gallagher Premiership game at Leicester Tigers next Saturday as Lawes was due to be with England anyway and Dingwall and Salakaia-Loto will face disciplinary hearings during the week.

Fraser Dingwall was dismissed just before the breakFraser Dingwall was dismissed just before the break
Fraser Dingwall was dismissed just before the break

The defeat to La Rochelle almost paled into insignificance, though it does mean Saints will not drop into the Challenge Cup, so there will be no more European rugby this season.

Phil Dowson's men had made a really positive start to the home clash with the Top 14 giants, who beat them 46-12 in France last month.

Saints were winning penalties at the breakdown, allowing them to secure crucial field position.

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Fin Smith opted to go for goal on one occasion, but his long-range penalty attempt went just wide to keep the game scoreless.

However, Smith made no mistake with a much closer effort soon after, rewarding Saints for their early momentum.

La Rochelle were really struggling to get a foothold in the game, and they were having to do plenty of defending.

But when the French giants finally mounted an attack, they scored, with Levani Botia powering over.

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Antoine Hastoy converted and Saints soon saw Lawes limp off to be replaced by Alex Coles.

La Rochelle were struggling to build on their lead as their lineout proved problematic, with Saints disrupting it at every turn.

But the French side were given a big helping hand before the break as Dingwall was sent off for head-on-head contact with Leyds.

Saints managed to avoid further damage before the break as Aaron Hinkley, who was delivering an all-action display, claimed an intercept, and the ball was booted out from inside the home 22.

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La Rochelle were immediately on the front foot at the start of the second half, but Saints were able to hold them up to prevent an early try.

It was to be Saints who registered the first points of the second half as a scrum penalty handed Smith a simple chance from the tee, and he was never going to miss.

La Rochelle responded well though, earning a lineout in the Saints 22 and powering forward via the drive, allowing Quentin Lespiaucq to break away and score.

Hastoy converted, but La Rochelle quickly lost their numerical advantage as scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sin-binned for killing a dangerous move.

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Saints took advantage soon after as they pieced together a fantastic move that got the home fans on their feet.

Smith placed a lovely little kick in the path of Rory Hutchinson, who fed Mike Haywood, who handed the ball to James for the score.

Haywood and James had only just come on, meaning it was an instant impact from the replacements.

Smith added the conversion and the deficit was just a single point with 25 minutes to play.

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Ollie Sleightholme soon did some good defensive work, flinging La Rochelle full-back Brice Dulin into touch at the last.

But La Rochelle did find a way through soon after as skipper Gregory Alldritt got the ball down.

Hastoy converted to give his side some extra breathing space just before Kerr-Barlow returned from the sin bin.

La Rochelle were soon over again, grabbing their bonus-point try as Lespiaucq again broke away from a maul and forced his way through.

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Hastoy missed the conversion but it wasn't going to matter as La Rochelle, who now had the try bonus point secured, were sauntering towards the finish line.

The fifth try arrived when La Rochelle played with the advantage from a penalty earned at the scrum as a flowing move was finished by UJ Seuteni.

Hastoy failed with the conversion but it was now 31-13 to the French side, and Saints really needed the game to finish as soon as possible to avoid further damage.

It didn’t happen though as Salakaia-Loto was sent off by referee Andrea Piardi for a forearm to the head, leaving Saints to end a bitterly cold day on a sour note.

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Saints: Furbank; Freeman, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Skosan (Sleightholme 45); F Smith (Ramm 65), Braley (James 53); E Waller (Hobbs-Awoyemi 65), R Smith (Haywood 53), Painte (Petch 40)r; Salakaia-Loto, Ribbans; Lawes (Coles 30), Hinkley (Scott-Young 60), Ludlam (c).

La Rochelle: Dulin (Berjon 71); Leyds (Thomas 39), Seuteni, Favre, Rhule, Hastoy, Kerr-Barlow; Wardi (Sclavi 51), Lagrange (Lespiaucq 40), Atonio (Colombe Reazel 51); Sazy (Lavault 40), Picquette; Botia (Boudehent 45), Bourdeau (Dillane 55), Alldritt (c).

Referee: Andrea Piardi