The La Rochelle strengths Leinster have to watch to avoid another ‘painful’ knockout loss

Dylan Coetzee
Leinster stars celebrate a try.

Leinster stars celebrate a try.

Leinster back-row Josh van der Flier is well aware it all comes down to physicality and winning the collision against their recent arch rivals La Rochelle.

The two sides have faced off in the last two Champions Cup finals with La Rochelle coming out as victors on both occasions in Marseille initially and in Dublin last year.

That is not the last time the two teams met, however, as they were drawn in the same pool this season. The giants met in France in terribly wet conditions and Leinster expertly ground out a hard-fought 9-16 win on the day.

Confidence building

Van der Flier admits the pool game was very different to the finals and in some ways played into La Rochelle’s style but they held on for a confidence-boosting victory.

“It was very different to the previous two games [that were played] in lovely sunny weather,” the flanker said.

“It was tough. It’s interesting, in a way, the drier weather, both of those were still one-score games. The wet weather one was a one-score game as well, so they’re still tight games, either way.

“If it’s pouring rain, it levels everyone out and it comes down more to tactics, playing field position right and then physicality. Winning collisions and not giving momentum to the opposition is probably the key it comes down to.

“Hopefully, it’s not raining like that, but it doesn’t bother me too much in the back row. If you think of a lot of their strengths, they’re very good at close-quarters physical battles, like maul, scrum and big ball-carriers running hard.

“So yeah, we take a big confidence boost from it, but we won’t lose any respect for La Rochelle as a team. They’ve shown what they can do over the last few years, they’re a brilliant team.

“We can take confidence from winning a game like that [last December], but it will be a different game this week.”
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Ready to go

La Rochelle’s nail-biting win last season in the final meant that Leinster went another year without a trophy but Van der Flier believes the team is not carrying any burdens ahead of the game.

“They were both painful [defeats], but there was a bit of a compounding effect from the previous year as well,” Van der Flier added.

“Having pretty much all your loved ones there and everything [added to the sense of disappointment]. We had the good side of it with the Grand Slam and Six Nations this year with your family there, but it feels like you have let people down sometimes if everyone comes [to support you] and you don’t perform.

“It was one of the tougher days, but it makes the good times sweeter. That’s the way I look at it.

“Everyone is excited and it doesn’t feel like there is a big burden on people’s shoulders either. We are just excited about the opportunity.”

QUIZ: Can you name the star-studded Toulon team that won the Champions Cup in 2013?