La Rochelle booked their place in the Champions Cup semi-finals after seeing off French rivals Montpellier with a hard-fought victory at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
Dany Priso, Victor Vito and Levani Botia got their names on the scoresheet while Ihaia West scored 16 points from the boot as the hosts held off a spirited fightback after initially charging into a 17-point lead.
Montpellier scored tries through Henry Thomas, Yvan Reilhac and Zach Mercer, as Louis Forsans kicked two conversions, but they eventually ran out of steam in the west coast of France.
After a cagey opening the hosts took a 13th-minute lead when Vito released prop Priso, who will leave the club at the end of the season, to score. West converted his try - and it was a sign of things to come as the La Rochelle took charge of this tie.
Following a 17th-minute penalty from West that made the score 10-0, a cute offload from Botia found Jules Favre, who free Vito to dive to score. West converted again and at this point, 17-0 up after just 23 minutes, there appeared to be only one side with serious designs on the final four.
Yet Montpellier rallied and cut the deficit to 10 points. Thomas, the prop, drove over after a period of pressure from the visitors and Foursans conversion gave Montpellier a foothold.
They emerged from the break with the momentum and suddenly the summit of the mountain was in sight.
Reilhac made the most of some confusion in the La Rochelle defence, following a mix up between Pierre Bourgarit and Tawera Kerr Barlow, and seized on a loose ball to dive over. Forsans converted again and suddenly the deficit was just three.
But this La Rochelle side is made of steely stuff and in Botia they have a centre who can turn a match on its head. He added five points a few minutes later when he fended off Gabriel N’gandebe’s attempt at a tackle and although West missed the conversion, the tension in the home end began to dissipate.
That brief interlude of calm did not last long, however. Montpellier scored again through former England hope Mercer, who benefitted from neat interplay from Yacouba Camara and Benoit Paillaugue, and his try on the left wing was his third in this competition this season.
Had Forsans converted, the deficit would have been just one. Instead, his miss left it at three - and the hosts would soon open up a nine-point lead when West kicked two penalties. A third in the dying stages would take the score to 31-19 and ensure no late drama.