Champions Cup, Semifinals - Teams and Predictions
NO LIMITS: Wallaby lock Will Skelton said La Rochelle will have a “real old crack” as they host joint-record four-time winners Leinster in their first European Champions Cup semifinal on Sunday.
Skelton, 28, joined the French club, who were still playing in the second-tier seven years ago, this season after winning the title twice in four campaigns with Saracens.
“If we can avoid the game overwhelming us we can give it a real old crack and really shake up this competition,” he told AFP.
“We’re excited for the history of the club. This new generation of this club has been coached not to know our limits. There is no ceiling there,” he added.
The Top 14 side are led by former New Zealand loose forward Jono Gibbes, who announced last week he would be leaving the club for Clermont at the end of the campaign.
Head coach and former Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara, who also won the European Cup twice, with Munster, will be promoted to director of rugby after Gibbes’ departure.
“Him and Jono have been awesome for the team, with our direction and really getting us prepared for the way we want to play,” Skelton said.
O’Gara, as well as his double trophy success, is the Champions Cup’s leading points scorer and has the most appearances for a player in the tournament.
Skelton said La Rochelle’s flyhalves including Maori All Blacks playmaker Ihaia West can turn to O’Gara for words of wisdom.
“He’s got experience, he’s played in big matches, one of the clutch players of his generation,” Skelton said.
“We’re very lucky that we’ve got Ronan, who has been there and done it. We can lean on him, especially our 10s,” he added.
Has he done enough to win #EPOTY2021 in your eyes?ADVERTISEMENT
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 29, 2021
‘Great Wallaby’ Fardy
This weekend Skelton, who still hopes to add to his 18 Wallabies caps, will face former Test teammate Scott Fardy.
Earlier this month, loose forward Fardy announced he will retire at the end of the season aged 36 after 39 international appearances and already has a Champions Cup winner’s medal to his name.
“I played a few years with ‘Fards’. He’s a great player and a great Wallaby,” Skelton said.
“It will be good to catch up with him and see how he goes. Hopefully he doesn’t play too well against us. He’s had a wonderful career in the game,” he added.
In the other last four tie, Toulouse, who have also won the competition on four occasions, host Bordeaux-Begles, who are making their first appearance in this stage of the tournament.
Saturday’s visitors were forced to postpone two league games due to Covid-19 cases among their squad and have only trained as a squad this week since the quarterfinal win over Racing 92 on April 11.
“It’s more difficult for them, obviously. Covid, it’s rubbish for everyone, not just rugby. They haven’t been lucky,” Toulouse captain Julien Marchand said on Thursday.
We take a closer look at each semifinal!
Saturday, May 1:
Toulouse v Bordeaux-Bègles
(Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse – Kick-off: 16.00; 14.00 GMT)
This will be the first time that Toulouse and Bordeaux-Bègles have met in European competition.
Toulouse have won six of their last seven clashes with Bordeaux-Bègles in the TOP 14 (L1) and have never lost a home game against them in the competition (W9, D1).
Bordeaux-Bègles have won their last five games in the Champions Cup, their best run in the competition and as many victories as they’d managed in their 12 games prior to this streak (L7).
Toulouse have reached the semifinal stage of the Champions Cup for the 13th time, only Munster have progressed this far more often (14), Bordeaux are here for the first time.
Toulouse have a 100 percent scrum success rate in the Champions Cup this season, one of five sides to manage this, they’ve won the most scrums (18) of any of those five teams.
Bordeaux have been shown five yellow cards in the Champions Cup this season, more than any other side, their average of 15.5 penalties conceded per game is the most of any side to play more than twice in the competition this season.
Antoine Dupont (Toulouse) is the only scrumhalf to score multiple (3) tries in the Champions Cup this season, he has also made the most carries (24) and metres (147) of any scrumhalf and beaten more than twice as many defenders (15) as anyone else in his position.
Guido Petti Pagadizaval has stolen a tournament high four opposition line-outs in the Champions Cup this season, Bordeaux teammate Cameron Woki is one of four
players to have stolen three throws.
Santiago Cordero (Bordeaux) is one of three players to score a competition high four tries in the Champions Cup this season, he has also beaten a team joint-high tally of 11 defenders so far in this campaign.
Matthieu Jalibert (Bordeaux) is the top points scorer (63) in the Heineken Champions Cup this season, he has also made the most offloads (10) of any player and ranks third for most carries (41).
@rugby365com: Toulouse by six points.
Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Zack Holmes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Francois Cros, 6 Alban Placines, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Julien Marchand (captain), 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Clément Castets, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Antoine Miquel, 22 Baptiste Germain, 23 Juan Cruz Mallía.
Bordeaux-Begles: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Romain Buros, 13 Pablo Uberti, 12 Yoram Falatea-Moefana, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Matthieu Jalibert (captain), 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 Guido Petti, 6 Cameron Woki, 5 Jandré Marais, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Maxime Lamothe, 1 Thierry Paiva.
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Cyril Cazeaux, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Ulupano Seuteni, 23 Thomas Jolmes.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
Sunday, May 2:
La Rochelle v Leinster
(Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle – Kick-off: 16.00; 15.00 UK & Ireland time; 14.00 GMT)
This will be the first time that La Rochelle and Leinster have met in European competition.
This is La Rochelle’s first appearance in the Champions Cup semifinals, as it is for Bordeaux in the other semifinal, they are the 12th and 13th French sides to reach this stage.
Leinster have won 25 of their last 28 completed games in the Champions Cup, averaging 32 points scored per game across those victories.
Six of Leinster’s last seven matches at the semifinal stage of the Champions Cup have come against French opposition, winning three and losing three of those clashes.
La Rochelle have won five of their seven completed home games in the Champions Cup, including their solitary such game against Irish opposition (41-17 v Ulster, 2017/18).
Leinster are on a five game winning run against Top 14 opposition, their best ever such streak in the Champions Cup.
Raymond Rhule has scored three tries for La Rochelle in the Champions Cup this season, he has also successfully caught all 16 kicks that have come his way, the most of anyone not to fumble one.
Johnny Sexton (Leinster) is one point shy of becoming the fourth player to reach 700 points in the Champions Cup (also Ronan O’Gara, Stephen Jones and Owen Farrell).
Only two players have made more tackles than Josh van der Flier (48) in the Champions Cup this season whilst the Leinster flank has also won four turnovers for his
side, only three players have won more.
Kevin Gourdon (La Rochelle) has the best average gain (6.3m per carry) of any forward to make more than 15 carries in the Champions Cup this season, with only one forward making more breaks than him (4).
@rugby365com: La Rochelle by four points.
La Rochelle: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Wiaan Liebenberg, 6 Grégory Alldritt, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Romain Sazy (captain), 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Reda Wardi.
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Arthur Joly, 19 Thomas Lavault, 20 Kevin Gourdon, 21 Arthur Retiere, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Pierre Aguillon.
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Rowan Osborne, 22 Ciarán Frawley, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson (England), Wayne Falla (England)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)
AFP & ChampionsCup