Ronan O'Gara guides La Rochelle to Champions Cup final with Leinster

The Munster legend will be plotting Leinster’s downfall for the second time after La Rochelle took Leo Cullen’s side apart in last season’s semi-final.
Ronan O'Gara guides La Rochelle to Champions Cup final with Leinster

La Rochelle's Grégory Alldritt comes up against Finn Russell of Racing 92

Heineken Champions Cup semi-final

La Rochelle 20 

Racing 13 

RONAN O’GARA’S La Rochelle will face Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup final after they edged out a strong Racing 92 side in Lens.

The Munster legend will be plotting Leinster’s downfall for the second time after La Rochelle took Leo Cullen’s side apart in last season’s semi-final. And they will meet again at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille in two weeks’ time after a powerful and gritty performance from their pack ground down a start-studded Racing side. This was a tense affair, and at one stage it looked as if Racing, whose attack is coached by former Munster scrum-half Mike Prendergast, would come out on top but La Rochelle controlled the key moments far more efficiently than the Parisians. Racing were the stronger side in the opening quarter and opened the scoring after a mere two minutes from Nolann Le Garrec’s boot. 

The Parisians were winning the physical battle with their explosive ball carriers getting over the gainline, but whenever they got any momentum, they were more often than not picked off at the breakdown by La Rochelle’s jacklers. La Rochelle had a try disallowed when Racing’s Juan Imhoff got caught in his own 22. 

Former Springboks wing Raymond Rhule picked the ball out of the breakdown, and dotted the ball down over the try line, but he was deemed to be offside by the television match official, and the try was subsequently ruled out. 

Racing finally cracked La Rochelle’s defence in the 26th minute when Virimi Vakatawa powered his way over the line from short-range following a period of sustained pressure, with Le Garrec adding the extras. La Rochelle’s response was a positive one as they stretched their opponents with their attacking game with their first points coming from Ihaia West’s boot. 

Last season’s beaten finalists ended the half in the ascendancy with their driving lineout, and scrum forcing Racing to concede numerous penalties. On the stroke of half-time La Rochelle took the Racing scrum apart which allowed Gregory Alldritt to drive over the line for the try. West failed with the conversion from out wide meaning Racing held a slender 10-8 lead at the interval. 

La Rochelle had the bit between their teeth in the early stages of the second-half, but the goal kicking of former Auckland playmaker West was becoming a serious issue as he missed his third kick at goal, this time hitting the upright. 

Le Garrec was succeeding where West was failing as he nailed another three points from the kicking tee after La Rochelle were penalised for an intentional knock-on. But Racing were temporarily reduced to 14 men when replacement hooker Camille Chat got shown a yellow card for a cynical offence at the breakdown. La Rochelle turned down the kick at goal to go for the corner, and their boldness was rewarded with a penalty try as their maul shoved Racing backwards over their line at a rate of knots. As if things couldn’t get any worse for Racing they were now down to 13 men with Gomes Sa sent to the sin bin for his part in illegally sacking the lineout drive. Racing managed this period exceptionally well not conceding a single point, while also missing two shots at goal. The Parisians were in control but failed to turn pressure into points as La Rochelle’s defence remained intact. And La Rochelle booked their place in the final when West touched down at the far right-hand corner in the final minute of play after his forwards had battered the Racing eight into submission.

RACING 92: L Dupichot; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, G Fickou, J Imhoff; F Russell (A Gibbert 66), N Le Garrec (M Machenaud 66); G Gogichashvili, T Baubigny (C Chat 41), G Colombe (G Sa 41), Be le Roux (B Presenti 66), A Bresler, W Lauret, I Diallo (B Palu 35), Y Mangene.

Replacements not used: E Arous, H Chavancy.

LA ROCHELLE: D Leyds; J Favre, J Sinzelle (L Botia 64), J Danty, R Rhule ; I West, T Kerr-Barlow (A Retiere 53); D Priso (R Wardi 52), P Bourgarit, U Atonio (J Sclavi 52), T Lavault, R Picquette (R Sazy 63), W Liebenberg (M Haddad 66), V Vito, G Alldritt.

Replacements not used: F Bosch, P Popelin.

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