Now the established first-choice full-back for club and country but this will be his maiden European final appearance. Authoritative in the air under the high ball and rapid with ball in hand, whether counter-attacking or breaking defences on clever lines.
Ever-present on the right wing in Leinster’s charge to the Champions Cup final, the Kildare man chipped in with five tries during the pool stages, four of them against Bath on a memorable January afternoon at the Recreation Ground.
Making his 100th appearance for Leinster in Marseille today, the outside centre seems to have been gliding through defences for an eternity but has also developed into a defensive linchpin that underlines some grit alongside the silky skills and footwork.
The Ireland midfield star has been terrier-like since he returned from the foot injury he brought home from the Lions tour last summer. With only 747 minutes of game time in 21-22 he is playing like a man possessed as he makes up for lost time earlier in the season and he faces an intriguing battle with France centre Jonathan Danty.
A crucial cog in the Leinster machine with his big left boot essential to an effective exit strategy, the wing has improved significantly in defence over the last 12 months to add to some serious X-factor in attack. With 10 of his 13 tries this season coming in his last five games, he is in some rich form and is on the shortlist for the EPCR European Player of the Year award.
At an age when most players have hung up their boots, Ireland’s captain is upping his game and dragging his teammates with him through his drive and hunger to push standards for both his province and the national team. Alongside prop replacement Cian Healy, he is bidding for a record fifth Heineken Champions Cup winners’ medal.
In the form of his career, Gibson-Park’s emergence as a playmaking foil to half-back partner Sexton has made both Leinster and Ireland less predictable and more potent in attack. Undoubtedly benefits from the speed of ball delivered to him at the breakdown but still brings serious zip behind those one-second rucks.
Has made last summer’s switch from tighthead back to loosehead look effortless and his presence as a regular starter has enhanced an impressive skillset among the Leinster and Ireland front row but has by his own admission had a tough time in the knockout stages against Leicester and Toulouse’s heavyweight front rows. Today faces powerhouse tighthead Uini Atonio.
Facing serious competition for club and country from Dan Sheehan, Kelleher has been holding his own with some serious ability in the loose to complement his bread and butter work at the set-piece. Has the passing skills to match Porter and Furlong and backs that up with really solid work in contact.
With dancing feet and great hands to deliver sublime passes, the Wicklow man is reinventing the tighthead position but remains an extremely effective scrummager whose ability to overcome a calf injury for today’s final gives Leinster a serious boost against a hefty La Rochelle front row.
Previously a bit-part player he is no longer the unsung hero in this Leinster pack and Test recognition with Ireland surely beckons for the lock whose deft passing on the gainline twice allowed Johnny Sexton to unpick the Toulouse defence in the semi-final earlier this month.
Has overcome concussion issues earlier this year after shipping a high and dangerous tackle from England’s Charlie Ewels in the Six Nations to return to the Leinster engine room and bring some serious heft, drive and lineout leadership to the party.
One of Leinster’s three European Player of the Year candidates and equally effective as a blindside flanker or at No.8. Is one of the key carriers in this Leinster attack and also packs a punch in defence with his tireless appetite for work that helps deliver lightning-quick ball for Gibson-Park at ruck time.
Ireland’s players’ player of the year is at the forefront of everything Leinster do well on both sides of the ball now his carrying has become such an effective weapon. A leading candidate for the 2022 EPCR European Player of the Year award, he’s scored six tries on the road to Marseille.
Set for a battle royal with La Rochelle’s Gregory Alldritt, the British & Irish Lions Test No.8 loves the wider channels where he can use his skills, footwork and pace to the greatest effect. He also provides a significant option at the lineout.
No place for the twinkle-toed Jordan Larmour as Leo Cullen sticks with the bench that saw out the 40-17 semi-final victory over Toulouse at Aviva Stadium a fortnight ago as the versatile Ciaran Frawley retains his role covering a multitude of positions across the backline. It also means academy lock Joe McCarthy, 21, remains on the bench despite the return from injury of Ireland international Ryan Baird. Frawley and McCarthy complete a bench containing six Test-level players with a combined 700 Leinster caps that should have significant impact if and when it is required.
Joining La Rochelle from Racing 92 in June 2020 coincided with a career renaissance for the 5ft 9in fullback, as he returned to the France reckoning and reached two finals in his first season with Les Maritimes. The one thing missing from this stint at his fourth club: silverware.
Leyds openly believes he has struggled with inconsistency in his ‘difficult second season’ at Stade Marcel Deflandre - but he’s still equalled his nine-try tally from his opening Top 14 campaign, and has games left to set a new season’s best with his elusive running.
The definition of a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ player, the mercurial Sinzelle has played wing, centre, fullback and fly-half in his 14 years as a professional. This is one of his last games for La Rochelle - he returns to the club where it all began, Toulon, at the end of the season.
Over the past 18 months, the linebreaking centre has added ice-cold heat-of-the-moment decision-making and defensive skills, gainline presence and breakdown work to his repertoire to become an important cog in both the La Rochelle and France rugby machines.
The former Baby Bok - one of three in the La Rochelle squad - has pace to burn, an engine that purrs all day, an eye for the tryline, and a deep-seated love of a good pass. Defensive frailties that cut short his senior international career have been largely resolved.
Much has been written and spoken about West’s frailties with the boot. La Rochelle will want last year’s semi-final version, who landed seven of eight and a drop goal, not the one who missed three chances in the final, or who landed one of four against Racing in this year’s semi-final.
This is, without doubt, the biggest match of the homegrown young scrum-half’s career as O’Gara gives him a shot over the multi-positional Arthur Retiere in the absence of Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Jules Le Bail. In his favour, an 8-1 winning record in the Champions Cup.
Back to his best after a few troubling seasons, Toulon-bound Priso is a strong presence in the scrum and breakdown, powerful and surprisingly pacy in the loose, and with the handling skills of a centre. He’s scored three tries this season, including one in the quarter-final win over Montpellier.
The Rochelais’ all-action hooker has not added to his five international caps since two replacement appearances in the 2021 Six Nations, and is unlucky to play in a period of excess for France in that position. His misfortune is his club’s good fortune, as he continues to barnstorm around the pitch.
The monstrous tighthead has been at La Rochelle since 2011, when they were in the ProD2, after he was spotted by ex-coach Patrice Collazo at a tournament in Hong Kong. Once considered a weak link in the scrum, despite his size, he’s now a powerful presence for club and country.
A 2018 world under-20 championship winner with France, when he was 18, the 1.98m Lavault made his senior debut in September 2019 and has quickly become part of the club's hard-working engine room furniture - playing in last season’s Champions Cup loss to Toulouse.
The scourge of Leinster - first with Saracens in 2019 and then with La Rochelle last year has come back from a calf injury earlier than expected, and looms ominously into the starting line-up in Marseille after 15 minutes off the bench in the Top 14 last weekend.
If La Rochelle are to get the better of Leinster in Marseille, they will have to be on top of their ground game. That’s where the combative and soon-to-retire Liebenberg comes in. He’ll be charged with making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and forcing a few turnovers.
Don’t let his lack of senior experience fool you. A 2019 world U20 champion with Les Bleus while still a teenager, Haddad is the gleaming future of rugby in France. A tireless and skilful ball carrier and brave at the breakdown, he will surprise a few better-known players at the Velodrome.
Tireless and never shy of the ball or whoever’s holding it, the only rival to van der Flier’s surely pending European Player of the Year award has made the most carries of any player in this season’s Champions Cup (113), ranks second for metres (731), defenders beaten (28), offloads (15) and turnovers won (8).
La Rochelle don’t have the riches of Leinster off the bench - but that does not mean their replacements are lightweights. They’ve gone for a five-and-a-half, two-and-a-half split, with Levani Botia able to cover backrow and midfield. In the forwards, Facundo Bosch and Joel Sclavi come from a long line of abrasive Argentinian front rows, while loosehead Reda Wardi is on Fabien Galthie’s future international radar. Romain Sazy brings experience, level-headedness and solidity to the second row off the bench, and Remi Bourdeau does the same for the backrow - a clear indication that O’Gara wants a ground battle from first whistle to last. Botia, meanwhile, will want to make up for his red card in last year’s final. Arthur Retiere can cover nine, 11, 14 and 15, and Jules Favre can cover midfield and wing.