Final Confirmed: Leinster and La Rochelle to Meet in Champions Cup Deja Vu - Ruck

Final Confirmed: Leinster and La Rochelle to Meet in Champions Cup Deja Vu

The final of the 2023 Heineken Champions Cup has been confirmed, as Leinster are once again set to take on La Rochelle in a repeat of last year’s final. The decider will see the two sides collide for the European club rugby’s pinnacle prize for the second consecutive year, with La Rochelle entering the match as reigning champions.

Despite La Rochelle being the competition’s title holders, Leinster will take a home-field advantage into the final. The Heineken Cup’s curtain caller will take place on Leinster home-turf, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. It has been a long an arduous journey for both sides, so let’s take a look at their semi-final successes, as they complete their roads to the final.

LEINSTER

Leinster are seeking revenge for last year’s devastating defeat in Marseille, which saw a last-minute try from Arthur Retiere snatch the title from the Dubliner’s hands. The winger’s try in the matches’ closing seconds secured a last-ditch lead for Ronan O’Gara’s men, before Ihaia West’s conversion confirmed a long-awaited first Champions Cup trophy.

The Irish province booked their place in the final after completing a demolition job on Toulouse. The 41-22 landslide win saw Leinster take the sword to the Top 14’s leaders, as they ran in five tries, with Ross Byrne adding 16 points from the tee. Ireland back-rower Jack Conan secured a brace of tries, with Dan Sheehan, Josh van der Flier and Jason Jenkins all building the points tally.

https://twitter.com/leinsterrugby/status/1652996446436859904

The match was almost a mirror image of the same fixture from last season. Toulouse were well beaten by Leinster in the 2021/22 Champions Cup semi-final, with that 40-17 score-line in no doubt providing Leinster with the upmost confidence to repeat the feat this year. Josh van der Flier also scored in last season’s thrashing, yet this time fly-half Ross Byrne had a far more prominent role, given the injury absence of Johnny Sexton.

Ireland and Leinster’s long-serving captain is expected to have played his final match for his province, with his groin injury side-lining him until a hopeful return at the 2023 Rugby World Cup. This decisive factor could act against Leinster come the final, as Sexton’s absent experience and leadership could prove costly in the high-stakes moments. Sexton kept his cool to kick six penalties in last-year’s final defeat to La Rochelle.

Now the spotlight will shine brightly on Byrne, as he attempts to lead Leinster to Champions Cup glory.

LA ROCHELLE

Levani Botia of La Rochelle is tackled by Mark Atkinson of Gloucester Rugby during the Champions Cup Last 16 match between Gloucester Rugby and La Rochelle at Kingsholm Stadium on April 2 2021 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK)

La Rochelle marched on to their third consecutive Champions Cup final, after dismantling Exeter Chiefs in Bordeaux. The side from the Bay of Biscay have a ‘one-and-one’ record in the past two Champions Cup finals, having lost the 2020/21 showdown with Top 14 rivals Toulouse, before clinching the trophy in the aforementioned Leinster upset.

La Rochelle ended Exeter Chiefs hopes for a fairy-tale ending, and a first Champions Cup title since 2020. The Chiefs have numerous star names departing the club at the end of the season, and envisioned a fitting send-off as European Champions. The departees include Sam Simmonds and Luke Cowan-Dickie to Montpellier, whilst Chiefs winger Jack Nowell is in fact joining La Rochelle, and was given a preview of his new club’s capabilities in the semi-final defeat.

A ruthless Stade Rochaleis ran roughshod on the Chiefs, for a 47-28 semi-final trimuph. Springboks star Raymond Rhule was unstoppable for La Rochelle, and secured two tries for his side. All Blacks capped scrum-half Tawera Kerr Barlow also scored twice, with additional La Rochelle tries coming from UJ Seuteni, Grégory Alldritt and Pierre Bourgarit.

Antione Hastoy brought his shooting boots to the Mamut Atlantique, kicking six conversions for a staggering points tally. In what has been a terbulent few seasons for La Rochelle, Ronan O’Gara’s side look like a devastating force, and some even consider them favourites ahead of the Champions Cup final. O’Gara has brushed off the remarks;

“It’s not in our language to be favourites, we play big games every week in the league and the (Heineken) Champions Cup, he said to the Heineken Champions Cup website.