All you need to know about the climax of the European club rugby season
Leinster v La Rochelle Champions Cup Final Preview
Two sides with contrasting European pedigrees meet in Marseille this weekend as Leinster take on La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final.
This is a sixth European Cup final for the Irish province and they have won four. Should they triumph at Stade Velodrome on Saturday evening they will equal Toulouse’s record of five European titles.
La Rochelle are the seventh side to reach back-to-back European Cup finals, having faced Toulouse last year, but they have never lifted the trophy so are aiming for an inaugural triumph.
The two sides met at the semi-final stage last year, La Rochelle’s power game smothering Leinster up front and helping the French side to a 32-23 win at an empty Stade Marcel Deflandre due to Covid restrictions.
The teams have a slightly different look to them this time around, but one of the interesting subplots remains in that former Munster fly-half Ronan O’Gara is coaching La Rochelle against the province that were his arch rivals during his playing days.
Leinster have looked slick and quick throughout this competition; the cohesion and speed they have is hard for opposition teams to cope with. They will need their attacking game to click to break down La Rochelle’s impressive defence while the French side will be hoping their pack, which features giants Will Skelton and Uini Atonio, can inflict similar damage on Leinster to that they did a year ago.
Find out who is playing, key facts and how to watch with the rest of our Leinster v La Rochelle Champions Cup final preview.
What’s the big team news?
Tadhg Furlong limped off early in Leinster’s semi-final win over Toulouse but is fit to start at tighthead prop in the final while James Lowe, another injury concern, is also named on the wing.
So Leo Cullen has been able to name the same match-day 23 as he did for that comprehensive win over the defending champions two weeks ago.
Jamison Gibson-Park and Johnny Sexton both missed last year’s match against La Rochelle but line up at half-back this weekend, with both crucial to Leinster’s game plan. Sexton has long been the tactical kingpin at the province, dictating how they play, while Gibson-Park has added more pace to their game.
While Leinster have named an unchanged team, La Rochelle are without first-choice scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow after he broke his hand in a Top 14 game. Another former All Black, back-row Victor Vito (ankle), is also missing. Thomas Berjon comes in at No 9 and Matthias Haddad is selected at openside.
However, Ronan O’Gara is able to welcome back France full-back Brice Dulin and Australia lock Will Skelton. Both missed the semi-final win over Racing 92 with injury but are fit for the final.
Jonathan Danty, who was so impressive in the Six Nations, starts in midfield and Ihaia West, who kicked 22 points against Leinster last year, is at fly-half.
What have the coaches said?
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster: “They’ve evolved their game (from last season). I think they’re a better attacking team now, defensively they’re incredibly strong with a lot of breakdown threats and a good kicking game as well. It’s two top-end teams going at it in the Champions Cup final.”
La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara: “They’ll be highly organised, highly efficient and fit, and highly skilled. But I suppose we have to take confidence from what happened last year and the key for us will be to try to start well.”
Any interesting statistics?
- Leinster’s ruck speed (2.84secs) in the Champions Cup is nearly half a second quicker than that of La Rochelle (3.28secs)
- As well as the best tackle success rate (91%), Leinster average the most metres made (931), line breaks (10) and passes (184) per Champions Cup game this term
- La Rochelle have dominated the territory game in Europe this season, spending more time (56%) in the opposition half than any other club
- Leinster wing James Lowe needs just one more try to equal Chris Ashton’s record of 11 in a single European campaign (2013-14)
- La Rochelle back-row Gregory Alldritt is the top carrier in this season’s Champions Cup with 113
What time is kick-off and who is the referee?
Leinster v La Rochelle will kick off at 4.45pm UK & Ireland time on Saturday 28 May at Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
It’s an all-English officiating team. Wayne Barnes is the referee, with Matthew Carley and Christophe Ridley his assistants. The TMO (television match official) is Tom Foley.
What are the line-ups?
Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Joe McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Ciaran Frawley.
La Rochelle: Brice Dulin; Dillyn Leyds, Jeremy Sinzelle, Jonathan Danty, Raymond Rhule; Ihaia West, Thomas Berjon; Dany Priso, Pierre Bourgarit, Uini Atonio, Thomas Lavault, Will Skelton, Wiaan Liebenberg, Matthias Haddad, Gregory Alldritt (captain).
Replacements: Facundo Bosch, Reda Wardi, Joel Sclavi, Romain Sazy, Remi Bourdeau, Arthur Retiere, Levani Botia, Jules Favre.
How to watch Leinster v La Rochelle
The good news for those in the UK and Ireland is that the Champions Cup final is available to watch on free-to-air TV.
Channel 4’s coverage starts at 4.15pm in the UK while in Ireland, Virgin Media Two will start their build-up to the final at 4pm.
Leinster v La Rochelle is also live on BT Sport 2 from 4pm. If you don’t have a BT Sport contract but want to watch the final on BT don’t worry. BT Sport has a contract-free monthly pass that allows you to get instant access to all four of their sport channels for just £25.
To find out how to watch the final from elsewhere in the world, check out our Champions Cup live stream guide.
Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.