La Rochelle v Toulouse: French rivals seek a change of pace in final clash | Champions Cup
Unlike the Eurovision Song Contest, there is no prospect null points and tactical voting in the big European rugby centerpiece this weekend. Previous all-French finals haven’t always turned out to be thrillers, but between them Stade Rochelais and Stade Toulousain share more than enough talent to make the 2021 edition special.
Fear of failure may tighten on the bigger stage, but in this case different motivations are at play. A Champions Cup victory at Twickenham would give Toulouse the distinction of being the first club on the continent to win the title. for a fifth time while La Rochelle, with Ronan O’Gara in his corner, are not quite ruthless recruits. It could be just as close as last year’s classic between Exeter and Racing 92.
Few teams, anyway, know the agony and ecstasy of the European finals better than the rugby aristocrats of Toulouse. Despite the milky way of earning stars on their jerseys, they haven’t won the trophy in over a decade and will also be aware of the last final they played against opponents dressed in black and yellow in the south. -west London.
On this occasion in 2004, they were beaten by the wasps thanks to the fatal error of judgment of Clément Poitrenaud on a bouncing ball and the opportunistic score of Rob Howley in the last moments. Some of the rugby Toulouse played that sunny afternoon was vintage, but they still ended up empty-handed.
This time, the scenario is no different: for Simon Shaw and Lawrence Dallaglio read the influential Will Skelton and Grégory Alldritt, key members of a La Rochelle pack well capable of causing a nuisance. Assuming they can win a ball, however, Toulouse have enough danger behind the scrum, notably Antoine Dupont and Cheslin Kolbe, to make the first Challengers’ Champions Cup final an intimidating experience.
It wasn’t until February that O’Gara hailed Toulouse international scrum-half Dupont as the best player in the world and rugby’s potential answer to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. “I think five years from now we will be talking about Dupont in the same glorified way,” said the former Ireland player, long before anyone knew who this season’s two finalists would be.
This week he was just as effusive, observing rightly that “even at Test level, there are very few teams that have a Kolbe and a Dupont on the same team”. However, no one who has followed O’Gara’s career will be fooled; the still competitive Munster man will have a detailed plan, as was the case against Leinster in the semi-final.
Without suspended French hooker Julian Marchand, it will not have escaped O’Gara’s attention that La Rochelle’s prospects will be greatly improved if they can bypass the potential threat of super-big twins Arnold – Richie and ‘Three. -storey Rory ”- to the roster. La Rochelle may well prefer to kick to compete and test the fitness of their opponents on the pitch. Having varied the pace of the game, as they have the ability, and deployed big attackers such as Skelton up close, they will want to finish as strong as they did against Leinster.
Psychologically, they also have the advantage of O’Gara’s vast European back catalog, including Munster’s failure to beat Northampton at Twickenham in 2000 when the former half-fly left his boots at home. “For me, this is an opportunity for a group of players from a fantastic club to come and express themselves,” said O’Gara. “The boys here know I failed in my first Champions Cup final when I was really poor. They know it’s okay to fail, they’ve seen their coach fail time and time again.
Which, curiously, O’Gara hopes, contributed to a deeper bond between coach and player and heightened the feeling of “Why not us?” which has been built all season. Toulouse, with the great Jérôme Kaino eager to conclude a great career in style, has a rich pedigree but La Rochelle is an outsider with exceptionally bright eyes.