The French outfit win 27-26 in Dublin
It was a Heineken Champions Cup final to induce wheezing from even the spectators, as Leinster blasted out of the blocks and La Rochelle threw hulking bodies at a comeback. And it was the long-game that proved triumphant as the French outfit took their second European title in a row, winning 27-26.
At one point, stupidly early, La Rochelle were 17-0 down. Yet with eight minutes left, les Maritimes took the lead – by a point – and saw Leinster reduced to 14 men, with Ronan Kelleher sent to the sin-bin.
And despite the 72 minutes of dizzying effort before, it served as a starter pistol for the championship rounds of madness. Bodies were flying in. Leinster tripled their efforts to make it to the La Rochelle line for a fourth time in the match. Jonathan Danty was shown a yellow card for a high tackle, there were turnovers, and the exits just weren’t going where they were intended…
And then Michael Ala’alatoa saw red for a reckless shoulder into the head of Georges-Henri Colombe at a ruck Leinster never could have won. He was banished from the field as Colombe was stretchered off. and that was it. Game over.
In the retelling, though, this will be seen as a triumph of composure. La Rochelle simply did not panic.
La Rochelle win Champions Cup again
What a final.
We saw Dan Sheehan score just 41 seconds in and Leinster were sparkling. And for all their brilliance, it just kept coming. Jimmy O’Brien dived in to score in the corner after about five minutes, and then Sheehan had his second score, off of a pass from scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park that cut out an acre of field. It was 17-0.
By the time Tawera Kerr-Barlow was shown a yellow card for killing ball, it looked insurmountable for the French outfit.
And yet the first half ended with La Rochelle finding themselves more. Jonathan Danty bounced Garry Ringrose and arced towards the line, just stretching to get the ball down for a try before it tumbled out of his hand.
Antoine Hastoy sent UJ Seuteni through for another to end the first, and the centre made the break upfield in the second to earn a penalty. La Rochelle got the scoreboard ticking their way. It got to 26-20 for Leinster, who on the other side were made to tackle to an obscene level, while making more errors.
And those bodies wrapped in yellow kept coming.
The most important of those bodies was Colombe’s, as he came at pace at the right time and crashed over for the most important try. A score to send the kitchen sinks of the world shattering as La Rochelle win Champions Cup number two.
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