La Rochelle managed to win their first-ever Champions Cup against Leinster, and they did so in dramatic fashion. It was Arthur Retiere’s try in the 79th minute that made the telling difference, as La Rochelle edged the tie 24-21.
Leinster had led the match for the most part, and this was thanks to Jonny Sexton, who converted six penalties, with Ross Byrne adding another. It led to a 'backs to the wall' job taking place, with Leinster having to dig in, but when Retiere breached the defence, there was no time to recover.
La Rochelle’s success in the Champions Cup is the first time they’ve managed to win a major trophy. They’re now the thirteenth team to lift the Champions Cup and the fourth from France to do so. After tasting defeat to Toulouse in last season’s final, returning to win the competition made up from the heartbreak of twelve months ago.
It also proved to be a great day for La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara. He is the man who holds the record for the most points ever scored in the tournament. But he’s now entered an exclusive club, which includes Leinster coach Leo Cullen and Toulouse’s Ugo Mola, as someone to win the championship in his playing days and then as a coach.
If Leinster had been successful against La Rochelle, the Irish province would have moved level with Toulouse on five wins in what is Europe’s top club competition. So, there is disappointment in that respect, especially after they made it as far as the semi-finals last year, where La Rochelle coincidently knocked them out.
Leinster will have thought they were on course to secure their magical fifth title in the competition, especially when they quickly asserted their dominance in the game. They looked the better of the two teams in the early exchanges and headed in at half-time in control of the fixture, thanks to Sexton.
La Rochelle came out after the break and immediately hit back. But again, Sexton was on hand with a couple more penalties. The French outfit’s lack of discipline was costing them. It allowed Leinster to respond to any of their success, and things got worse when Thomas Lavault received a yellow card from referee Wayne Barnes.
But, even though they were at a numerical disadvantage, La Rochelle kept pushing, and it was their attack’s perseverance that would prove to be the difference-maker. Their territorial possession increased, and they continued to mount pressure on the Leinster defence.
Pushing for a breakthrough could have proved a fruitless task, but when Retiere put the ball down on the line on the stretch, their determination was duly rewarded. It really was there for the taking for Leinster, primarily thanks to La Rochelle’s lack of discipline. But after going into defensive mode, they were made to pay, with the French team’s grit the determining factor on the day.