Champions Cup: Tactical masterclass from Ronan O’Gara earns La Rochelle their first major trophy

Dylan Coetzee

La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara joins an elite group of players who have won the Champions Cup as both a player and a coach after his side dramatically beat Leinster 24-21 in the final.

Replacement Arthur Retiere scored the winning try in the game’s final stages, earning La Rochelle their first-ever major trophy.

Coaching brilliance

O’Gara produced a coaching masterclass to down Leinster, including a big focus on robbing the Irish side of time and space on the ball.

“We made a plan and our want was huge. There was nothing in it, but the key was taking away Leinster’s space and time,” said O’Gara, who won the title as a player with Munster in 2006 and 2008.

“I told Arthur I hoped to give him 30 minutes to allow him to go on and win the game.

“There was a lot of finishing in his try, because we had hammered away for about 40 phases before that. There was a lot of discipline in that and it was a super finish.

“There are certain players in football, like Ruud van Nistelrooy, who you know are going to get goals and Arthur Retiere is a brilliant rugby player, but he is an average number nine and an average winger. He is a brilliant player without a position.

“Leinster are usually out of sight in the first half so at half-time – when we were five points behind – I asked the players’ what’s the problem’? The data shows we score 60 per cent of our points in the last quarter.

“Twelve months ago we went to Racing and got beaten 49-0. There was fighting and it was carnage, but it will be carnage in the port of La Rochelle for the next few days after this.

“It was such a tense game and it all feels a little bit surreal that we will wake up in the morning as European champions.”

Former Wallaby Will Skelton impressively played the whole final after only playing 15 minutes since returning from injury and was delighted to lift the Champions Cup for the second time in his career after winning with the Saracens in 2019.

“This means everything to this club, the players and to me. We are only a small town, we aren’t supposed to be playing in these big games,” said Skelton.

“It hurt a lot last year when we were beaten by Toulouse but sometimes you have to lose before you can go on to win the big one.

“We showed a lot of character and the way we won it shows how much we care for this club, the town and each other.”

Leinster captain Johnny Sexton was distraught after the game and credited La Rochelle for not allowing his side to play their game.

“I am pretty lost for words. We didn’t play our best game and we weren’t allowed to play our best,” admitted Sexton.

“We will have to take a look at that before we can point any fingers. There were a few things at the end of the game that I don’t understand.

“It’s devastating, although fair play to La Rochelle. They came with a plan and I didn’t see them coming back after the lead we had built.

“But we didn’t clear our lines and we paid the price. This is an incredibly-hard competition to win and when you get to the final, it is the hardest game of the season.

“We had some chances that we didn’t take and we kept the scoreboard ticking over. It was just devastating to lose it in the way we did at the end.”

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