Fri 27 May 2022 | 02:13

Leinster v La Rochelle - teams and prediction

Leinster v La Rochelle - teams and prediction
Fri 27 May 2022 | 02:13
Leinster v La Rochelle - teams and prediction
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EUROPEAN CUP FINAL PREVIEW: A Johnny Sexton-led Leinster will take on 2021 runners-up La Rochelle in Marseille on Saturday, eyeing a record-equalling fifth continental crown.

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Toulouse beat La Rochelle last year for a fifth European title, but Leinster, with Ireland skipper Sexton to the fore, hammered the defending champions in the semifinals to set up an intriguing match-up against a French side coached by Munster legend Ronan O’Gara.

“Obviously this final would have been different if it had been Munster, but at the same time, they’re massive opponents,” said O’Gara, who has transformed La Rochelle since taking over in 2019 after a coaching stint with the Crusaders.

Leinster, who previously won the tournament in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018, and lost the 2019 final, is “a team against which I’ve played a lot of matches as a player, a team for which I have a lot of respect, who are currently really strong”, added O’Gara, who vied with Sexton for the Ireland flyhalf shirt.

“But that’s all in the past. I’m La Rochelle coach with a big chance to win this final and that’s very cool.”

To better prepare for the Final against Leinster, impressive 40-17 winners over Toulouse in their semifinal, O’Gara said he had revisited video of La Rochelle’s 32-23 victory over Sexton’s team in the last four of last season’s Cup.

“Of course, we’ve looked at some images of last year’s semifinal, but that was 12 months ago,” said O’Gara, who as a player with Munster won the European Cup in 2006 and 2008.

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“They’ve really progressed in their game and us as well. At the same time, it gives us a lot of confidence, but I prefer we concentrate on our game, and settle things.

“It’s up to us to impose our game,” he said. “It’ll be important to play territory and in the right zones.

“When they arrive in our 22, they’re a tough team to stop. They’re very well structured so we need to control the ball well.”

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Clinical, accurate

La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt echoed O’Gara’s sentiments.

“It’s the type of challenge I love,” the free-roaming back row forward said, calling the current Leinster crop “clinical, very accurate”.

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“They play pattern after pattern, but it’s so well executed it’s efficient.”

Alldritt added: “Leinster make up three-quarters of the Ireland team, with practically the same gameplan. Our goal will be to try to disrupt what they’re used to doing.”

La Rochelle go into Saturday’s game on the back of three defeats in finals, having lost to Toulouse in last season’s Top 14 and European Cup showdowns, as well as the 2019 European Challenge Cup.

“If I need five finals to win one, sign me up straight away,” Alldritt said.

“The goal is to win a title. We don’t talk about defeat because if we start talking about it, it’s the end.

“I’m convinced we can win this against Leinster and that we will win.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Leinster, with star flanker Josh van der Flier saying: “There’s a hunger, certainly, in the team to go back there and to win it.

“I wouldn’t say we feel a huge amount of pressure because obviously, it’s such a hard thing to win. It’s a very, very difficult competition, with a huge number of great teams.

“But definitely, there’s a huge desire and hunger from the team, from everyone, from me personally to get to that stage and to win.”

Van de Flier added: “Looking at the team and the squad, there’s a lot of us on the team who wouldn’t have played in a European final before. It’s certainly not something that we’re used to, so it’s very, very exciting.”

Leinster boss Leo Cullen, the only person to have won an European title as a player and coach, said he hoped for “a great game. We obviously want to win and we know they are desperate to win as well”.

O’Gara, Cullen added, “has such a strong affiliation with this tournament, he will be desperate” to win it.

Head to head

This will be just the second meeting between Leinster and Stade Rochelais in the Champions Cup, with Stade Rochelais winning their semifinal encounter last season (32-23). It will be the fifth time that an Irish team has faced a Top 14 club in the Final, with Irish sides having won on each of the previous four occasions.

Leinster-v-La-Rochelle-head-to-head

Road to the Final

Leinster-v-La-Rochelle-road-to-the-Final

Prediction

@rugby365com: Leinster by nine points

Teams

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jimmy O’Brien, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Ciaran Frawley.

Stade Rochelais: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jérémy Sinzelle, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Thomas Berjon, 8 Grégory Alldritt (captain), 7 Matthias Haddad, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Thomas Lavault, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Dany Priso.
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Rémi Bourdeau, 21 Arthur Retiere, 22 Levani Botia, 23 Jules Favre.

Date: Saturday, May 28
Venue: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Kick-off: 16.45 (17.45 French time; 15.45 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)

PV: 19
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