La Rochelle set up all-French final
MATCH REPORT: La Rochelle will compete in the Champions Cup final for the first time after a stunning 32-23 win over four-time European champions Leinster Rugby in Sunday’s last-four clash at Stade Marcel Deflandre.
*As it happened: La Rochelle v Leinster
The result means that La Rochelle will meet their Top 14 rivals Toulouse in the Champions Cup final at Twickenham.
Second-half tries from Gregory Alldritt and Will Skelton as well as 22 points from La Rochelle fly-half Ihaia West secured success for the French outfit, who outplayed the Irish province in the latter stages with clinical attacking play as well as a superb defensive effort.
La Rochelle made a slow start and were seven points down just after the ten-minute mark when Tadhg Furlong was able to power over after a string of carries close to the line, with Wiaan Liebenberg heading to the sin bin in the process.
The French side was in no mood to lie down though, and it was West who tucked over a penalty kick and then a drop goal to cut the lead to a point, before Ross Byrne responded with a three-pointer of his own.
Byrne would slot over another on 28 minutes but La Rochelle ended the half on top and it was soon 13-12 to the visitors as West proved clinical from the kicking tee, nailing a pair of penalty kicks.
The two sides continued to trade successful penalty kicks in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, but when James Lowe was shown a yellow card on 58 minutes with the score at 18-16 to the hosts, La Rochelle began to turn the screw.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow first thought he had scored crossed for La Rochelle, but after he was short of the line, the hosts did go over with Alldritt collapsing over the line with help of Skelton.
Skelton would get in on the act on 75 minutes for the match-winning try, with the driving maul proving too strong for the Leinster defence which splintered with surprising ease.
Byrne did score and then convert his own try with two minutes to play, but it only proved a consolation with La Rochelle running out nine-point winners – they will take on Toulouse in the Champions Cup final later this month at Twickenham.
For La Rochelle
Tries: Alldritt, Skelton
Cons: West 2
Pens: West 6
Tries: Furlong, Byrne
Cons: Byrne 2
Pens: Byrne 3
Yellow cards: Wiaan Liebenberg (La Rochelle, 7 – repeat infringements), James Lowe (Leinster 55 – deliberate foul)
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.
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson (England), Wayne Falla (England)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)