The 2021-22 Champions Cup final is imminent and a fiery clash is on the cards, worthy of the occasion.
Leinster and La Rochelle will contest the cup at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille and, as things stand, the visitors are being dubbed favourites.
The last encounter between these two will still be fresh in the minds of both sets of players and it will be the Irishmen who will be hoping to taste revenge as La Rochelle downed them in last season’s semi-final at Stade Marcel-Deflandre:
La Rochelle are burning to redeem their effort of last season’s final which saw them fall to reigning champs Toulouse:
La Rochelle boss Ronan O'Gara believes that his troops’ home-ground advantage will work significantly against Leinster.
“What Leinster did against Toulouse was a great performance,” O’Gara said, speaking to Rugbyrama. “But it was at the Aviva Stadium, at home. It is up to us to recreate similar conditions in Marseille to stress them out and put them under pressure.
“They have progressed a lot in their game and so have we.
“But, it gives us a little confidence. We’re really going to focus on our game. We always have things to sort out. The easy thing to say is to stop Leinster.
“We will have to impose our game on them and after that it will be important to occupy and play in their zone. Because when they get within 22 meters, it’s a tough team to stop.
“They are very clean in their structure. It’s important to control the ball well.”
On a personal note, O’Gara, who faced Leintser many times as a Munster stalwart, said the following:
“They are always a big competition. I played a lot of games against them as a player. It’s a team that I respect a lot. They are very strong right now.
“I think that if you spend your whole life in Cork, you like to win against them and vice versa.”
Meanwhile, Leinster and Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw says the possibility of the men in blue attaining a record-equalling 5th Champions Cup title is plenty of motivation.
“I think it means everything,” he said. “Looking back on previous years we’ve come up short. We’re eager to do it this time and everyone is.
“It’s huge for the club. The history of this competition, it’s such a special competition to win. Hopefully, come Saturday, we’ll be there.
“It’s a massive week for everyone and there’s a really good sense of excitement, nerves and buzz around the place. It’s brilliant.”
Henshaw believes the recent pandemic has intensified their desire to hoist the trophy.
“Three years has been a long time,” he said. “Especially throughout what everyone has been through in the past couple of years, it feels longer [almost].
“As a group we’ve done a lot of learning over the last three years. We’ve looked back and we’ve looked at where we’ve come up short.
“We’ve done the learning and now it’s time to take action and make sure we don’t have to go through another year [of learning].”
Another one of Leinster’s stand-out players this season has been flanker Josh van der Flier, who spoke on the current mood within the squad.
“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.
“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.”
- Stade Rochelais are bidding to become the 13th club to be crowned champions of Europe since the tournament’s inception in 1995. If they triumph on Saturday evening, they will be the fourth French club after Stade Toulousain, CA Brive and RC Toulon, to lift the trophy.
• Leinster are aiming to win a fifth Heineken Champions Cup star and to join Stade Toulousain as the most successful club in the tournament’s history.
• The clash of Leinster and Stade Rochelais will be the fifth final between clubs from France and Ireland with the Irish having won all four to date (1999, 2006, 2008 and 2018).
• If selected in the match day 23, and if Leinster are successful, Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy will become the most decorated players in the tournament’s history by each claiming a fifth winner’s medal. To date, six players have won on four occasions: Cédric Heymans (CA Brive/Stade Toulousain), Fréderic Michalak (Stade Toulousain/RC Toulon) and the Leinster quartet of Sexton, Healy, Isa Nacewa and Devin Toner.
• Johnny Sexton has scored the most points of any player in Heineken Champions Cup finals with 68 from five appearances. His total of 28 in Leinster’s dramatic win against Northampton Saints in 2011 has only been surpassed by Diego Dominguez’s metronomic 30 points in Stade Francais Paris’ losing final against Leicester Tigers in 2001.
• The impressive Grégory Alldritt of Stade Rochelais, who has been shortlisted for the European Player of the Year award, leads this season’s statistics in three categories: carries (113), metres (731) and offloads (15).
• Ronan O’Gara, who famously had Heineken Cup success with Munster Rugby in 2006 and 2008, could become the second person to win the title as both player and Head Coach, emulating his opposite number on Saturday, Leo Cullen, who is the only person to have the achieved the feat so far.
• Leinster’s James Lowe, also nominated for European Player of the Year, is the top try scorer in the current campaign with 10 from six appearances, and he needs one more at the Stade Vélodrome on Saturday to equal Chris Ashton’s record of 11 in a season for Saracens in 2013/14.
• Victor Vito, who hangs up his boots at the end of the season, had Super Rugby success with the Hurricanes in 2016 and could become the 12th player to do the Heineken Champions Cup and Super Rugby double if Stade Rochelais win on Saturday.
• Players from eight different countries – Argentina, Australia, Fiji, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa – are likely to feature in the final.
• If selected in Leinster’s match day squad, Robbie Henshaw will make his 50th tournament appearance in the final.
• As the club attempts to win its first EPCR title, four members of the Stade Rochelais tournament squad have already tasted European success. Will Skelton was a Heineken Champions Cup winner with Saracens in 2018, while Jonathan Danty, Jules Plisson and Jérémy Sinzelle were Challenge Cup winners with Stade Francais Paris in 2017.
• The Leinster pair of Ross Molony and Josh van der Flier have the made the most tackles to date this season with 89 apiece.
• As many as 17 of Leinster’s tournament squad are already Heineken Champions Cup winners having been selected in the match day squad for a final: Jack Conan, Seán Cronin, Tadgh Furlong, Jamison Gibson-Park, Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Rory O’Loughlin, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, Devin Toner and James Tracy.
• The Stade Vélodrome will be hosting a European club final for the second time. In 2010, the venue famously set an attendance record of 48,990 for a Challenge Cup final when the Cardiff Blues defeated RC Toulon.
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