Special Envoy to San Sebastián
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The Stade Rochelais all power
As in Toulouse-Racing 92 (41-14), Friday night, the logic was finally respected in San Sebastian. La Rochelle, second in the regular season, won against Union-Bordeaux (24-13), after a one-sided first half and a messier second act. Powerful, cold and efficient, the Maritimes finally qualified for the second Top 14 final in their history. The double European champions will meet in the final at Stade Toulousain for a remake of the 2021 final won by the Rouge et Noir (18-8). A dream final, awaited by all French rugby. If the Rochelais had lost twice against Toulouse in 2021 (Champions Cup then Top 14), this time, the debates will be much more balanced. La Rochelle is growing in power and only intends one thing: to achieve this double European Cup-championship that Antoine Dupont's teammates had accomplished two years ago. Next Saturday, the counters will be reset to zero. And the Maritimes have an old score to settle and a new status to assume.
See alsoTop 14: La Rochelle dismisses UBB and joins Toulouse in the final
The O'Gara show in the stands, a great experience
The Anoeta Stadium is so made that the staff booths are just above the press box. And, funny coincidence, we found ourselves just below that of the Stade Rochelais, a few decimeters from the boiling Ronan O'Gara. Who lives the match in an intense way, commenting on the match and shouting his instructions to his players who, inevitably, do not hear anything from the pitch. But he doesn't care, he lives his match to the fullest. A spectacle in its own right, a little painful for the eardrums, but hilarious. With "Jesus", "come on" here, and a lot of "fuck" there. Sometimes, all three at the same time. The Irish technician is known for experiencing his team's matches as well. With a (very) high noise level. Already, when he was assistant at Racing 92, his shouts and invectives resonated in the stands of the Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes. During the semi-final of the Champions Cup won against Leinster (32-23) in 2021, we were able to experience the "ROG show" live in a Marcel-Deflandre stadium almost empty because of Covid. This Saturday, in Anoeta, we were still in the front row. A treat. In the second half, the Irishman then went down to the edge of the field, this time his players must have heard him!
A real match of supporters
In the first semi-final, there was no photo. The supporters of the Stade Toulousain had invaded the spans of the Reale Arena, we could only hear them, in front of the meagre 700 fans of Racing 92. This Saturday, the battle of the stands took place. Rochelais and Bordeaux had come en masse to San Sebastián: they first invaded the streets of the Basque city before giving voice to the whole match. But, at this little game, the Stade Rochelais quickly showered the enthusiasm of the Girondins. UBB supporters quickly silenced by the power and efficiency of the Maritimes. But who regained hope and woke up after the penalty try awarded to their protégés (48th). And have never stopped believing in it. In any case, Saturday's final between Rochelais and Toulousains, the new great rivals of French rugby, also promises to be volcanic in the stands.
UBB, the step was too high
Sixth and last qualified for the final phases, the Union Bordeaux-Bègles had managed the small tour de force to win on the lawn of Lyon (25-32) in the play-off. This time, in the semi-finals, the Girondins missed their start of the match. They were grabbed by the throat by the Maritimes, who imposed a constant and suffocating pressing on them. UBB did not stand up to the power of Grégory Alldritt's teammates. Accustomed to playing a game of dispossession, the Bordeaux could (almost) do nothing in Anoeta, deprived of ammunition and unable to make the few balls they had. Despite a more than complicated season, the Girondins had managed to qualify for a third semi-final in a row. For a third setback, after those against Toulouse in 2021 (24-21) and against Montpellier (19-10) last year. The step is still too high.
The culpable release of the Maritimes
At the end of the first half and the demonstration of La Rochelle, many thought that the mass was said. And that Bordeaux-Bègles would never return to the game. Big mistake. On the way back from the locker room, O'Gara's players conceded a penalty try (48th) that totally restarted the game. Less timid, more enterprising, the Girondins regained hope and tried their luck. In the wake of Ben Tameifuna, entered at the beginning of the second act, who brought all his power against the big arms of La Rochelle. Did the Maritimes believe the game was already played? In any case, they have lost their efficiency and control, making some fears. This season, the Stade Rochelais, already widely favorite, had trembled in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup against Gloucester (29-26). A booster shot that then allowed him to dominate Saracens (24-10), Exeter (47-28) and Leinster (27-26). Will this little blow against UBB be beneficial before meeting Toulouse in the final?
See alsoTop 14: in San Sebastian, a page of Racing 92 has violently turned
Lucu and Jabilert were padlocked
The Bordeaux hinge Maxime Lucu-Matthieu Jalibert, understudy in the team of France of the Toulouse duo composed of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, was struggling this Saturday in San Sebastian. The Gironde team has never really managed to impose its game, to find solutions against the Rochelais. Maxime Lucu, generally depositary of the game at the foot of dispossession of his team, did not have the radiation he had in the play-off against LOU. Difficult, it is true, to exist in a meeting where his pack is dominated. At his side, Jalibert did try a few shots, some accelerations, but he did not weigh on the debates, well expected that he was by the Stade Rochelais. Opposite, Antoine Hastoy once again stood out, playing very fairly, whether by hand or foot. The former Palois, considered the third choice in the position of 10 in the France team, finally won the international openers' match.