Players who have beaten this season, twice and quite widely, Antoine Dupont and his friends Ntamack, Ramos, Marchand, Baille and Flament. This is enough to set the level of Leinster, the club of the province of Dublin which challenges this Saturday at 17:45, in its stadium of the Aviva Stadium, the Stade Rochelais in the final of the Champions Cup.
Can La Rochelle do better on Saturday than the XV of France, beaten by Ireland in the Six Nations (32-19), and Toulouse, swept by Leinster in the semi-finals (41-22)? Here are all the reasons to fear this Irish ogre again.
A team that knows each other by heart
Leinster is the team that forms the backbone of the XV of Ireland, winner of the Grand Slam in the Six Nations Tournament 2023. And it is also the team that took out the Toulouse in the semi-finals of this same Champions Cup, three weeks ago, still in this Aviva Stadium, decidedly cursed for the French this year.
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In the starting XV of the final this Saturday, 12 players out of 15 are Grand Slam winners. A team, it must be remembered, number one in the world, ahead of the France, and with the best player in the world, Josh van der Flier. And again, their playmaker, Jonny Sexton, is missing, injured. Not enough to weaken a collective that plays together with its eyes closed all year round.
Like the Clover XV, Leinster is an ultra-oiled machine. "What makes Ireland so strong is that they are able to play at a steady speed for 80 minutes," said Bernard Jackman, a former Irish hooker, ahead of the Six Nations tournament. Leinster, with the same players, logically has the same characteristics. When they have the ball and progress in the opposing court, nothing or almost nothing seems to stop them. And they have the ability to find gaps thanks to small combinations near the lines, as on the first try scored against Toulouse in the semi-final... or the one facing the France.
61% - @StadeRochelais beat Leinster to last year's title thanks in part to dominating possession (61%) and territory (56%) in the final; however, it is Leinster who rank top in both categories in the competition this season (55% possession & 58% territory). Stranglehold. pic.twitter.com/fu1J3oo24R
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) May 18, 2023
The image of the steamroller that always ends up scoring is the most telling. "I hear that all the time. But beware, La Rochelle is also hard to stop, "warns Ronan O'Gara, the coach... Maritime Irish.
An audience waiting for that
In its stadium in the Champions Cup, Leinster has just inflicted three corrections (30-15 against Ulster, 55-23 against Leicester and 41-22 against Toulouse). The Aviva Stadium crowd is ready to explode for his team, in this final which is a revenge of last year, where the Irish remained groggy on the lawn of the Velodrome of Marseille, crucified at the last minute. This time, the nearly 50,000 Irish fans (compared to only 2,500 Rochelais) could make the difference.
" READ ALSO Leinster-Toulouse (41-22): in Ireland, French rugby is decidedly unable to do so
Leinster want revenge so much that they let slip their semi-final in the local league against their rivals Munster last week (defeat 15-16), to preserve their managers. Everything for the European Cup, in short. The people of La Rochelle have been warned.