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Saturday May 20, 2023

Heineken Champions Cup: Déjà Vu As La Rochelle Snatch Late Victory

La Rochelle are the Heineken Champions Cup winners for the second time in two years as they once again defeat Leinster with a late score.

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Having fallen 17 – 0 behind early in the first half, Ronan O’Gara’s men showed their championship mettle to fight back.

Early scores from Dan Sheehan (twice) and Jimmy O’Brien set Leinster on their way as they looked set to blow their French visitors away.

Yet, a try from influential French international centre Jonathan Danty gave La Rochelle a foothold in the contest.

Two penalties from Ross Byrne all but offset the Danty try as Leinster approached half-time with a comfortable 23 – 7 lead.

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As the dying seconds of the half ticked over, La Rochelle camped inside the Leinster 22 in a trend that would continue for the remainder of the clash.

This pressure would see Samoan international UJ Seuteni go over for a try. With Antione Hastoy converting the score, La Rochelle were suddenly within touching distance of the lead at 23 – 14.

The second half was all one way traffic outside of an early Ross Byrne penalty as La Rochelle battered their hosts and as Munster did last week starved them of possession.

In a near mirror image of last season’s final, the French side would score a late try to take the lead. This time it would be Georges Henri Colombe Reazel who would land the decisive blow with Hastoy’s conversion putting the scores at 27 – 26 in his side’s favour.

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Adding insult to injury referee Jaco Peyper would hand Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher a yellow card which would mean Leinster would be a man down for the remainder of the contest.

Leinster would launch a furious yet unorganised assault on the La Rochelle line in the final five minutes and were handed a lifeline as Jonathan Danty was shown a yellow card.

Rather perplexingly, Ross Byrne and the rest of the Leinster leadership opted to go for the corner rather than take a shot at goal.

This would prove to backfire as La Rochelle repelled their attack with relative ease.

The final nail in the coffin would with just over a minute remaining as Leinster prop Michael Alaalatoa was shown red. As he trudged off the pitch, La Rochelle cleared their lines and closed out the contest with a powerful maul.

In the aftermath, La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt was left almost speechless at what his side had achieved, taking the time to thank his teammates before joining in the celebrations.

For head coach Ronan O’Gara this was his fourth Heineken Cup title having won two as a player for Munster. As his impressive resume continues to grow, he will no doubt remain in high demand the world over and has all the makings on an international coach in waiting.

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