Sun 29 May 2022 | 09:12

'Nobody believed in us': La Rochelle's heroes on cloud nine after Euro win

'Nobody believed in us': La Rochelle's heroes on cloud nine after Euro win
Sun 29 May 2022 | 09:12
'Nobody believed in us': La Rochelle's heroes on cloud nine after Euro win
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REACTION: Heroic defence and indefatigable, sniping attack in the final quarter proved vital for La Rochelle’s memorable European Champions Cup Final victory over Leinster, according to captain Gregory Alldritt.

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Despite a litany of infringements throughout the hard-hitting match at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome that handed Leinster the advantage thanks to the trusty boot of Johnny Sexton, the French side managed to keep a foothold in the match throughout.

Tries by Raymond Rhule and Pierre Bougarit set up a nail-biting climax for a bone-crunching game in which doughty defence was king.

Replacement scrumhalf Arthur Retiere got the decisive third try, La Rochelle players erupting in joy at having avenged last season’s final loss to Toulouse with a dramatic 24-21 win.

“It’s just massive,” beamed Alldritt, a talismanic figure at No.8 for both club and country.

“We decided it, we did it. Nobody believed in us, but we knew where we were going.

“We told ourselves that if we were still in the game at the 60th minute, it would play in our favour and that’s what happened.”

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La Rochelle’s Irish coach Ronan O’Gara said the result was testament to a lot of hard work.

“We started a long way away from dreaming of getting to finals. We were second division eight years ago,” he told Channel 4.

“I have to thank the boys and staff who have made me so proud. It would have been easy to lose today [Saturday] but we have learnt from previous finals and found a way to win.

“It wasn’t pretty but I’m very proud. The defence was everything. This is the first time Leinster have not scored a try.”

‘Worked like dogs’

The Cup victory was a first for La Rochelle, something not lost on Thomas Berjon, called in to start at scrumhalf in the absence of injured former All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

“That is a moment that the club has been waiting for, a title,” Berjon said.

“We were not favourites, but our spirit paid off. That puts La Rochelle on the map of Europe, that is huge it being our first trophy.”

Flank Matthias Haddad, another young player soaking up the pressure with aplomb after stepping into the boots of injured All Black Victor Vito, said the win was “unbelievable for our club, for our region”.

“I only hope it is the beginning. We worked like dogs for this, we were seen as losers and we have shut up our detractors.”

Giant Australian lock Will Skelton, recalled for the final after a month out with a calf injury and described by O’Gara as a vital cog for the team, enjoyed a massive, destructive game in the midfield dogfight.

“We are a big team, a power team, and that last 10 minutes showed what this shirt and town mean to us,” Skelton said.

“I don’t know how long we are going to party, but it will be a good time in the port,” he said in reference to La Rochelle’s Atlantic harbour setting.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen said the result had “not really hit home, we are licking our wounds. It came down to fine margins and a couple of defensive sets”.

“But there is probably a story before that as well in how we got into that situation.

“In the last 15 minutes we could have been better. It is a sickener, but credit to La Rochelle.”

Sexton also praised the Top 14 side.

“We weren’t at our best. We will have to look at it before we point any fingers,” he said.

“It is devastating. Fair play to La Rochelle, they came here with a plan. I didn’t see them coming back but we did not clear our lines and we paid the price.”

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