Flawless just about all season long, Ireland’s imperious full back stumbled within sight of the summit. Left clutching thin air for the first try, his run down a blind alley provided the platform for La Rochelle’s second. Like the rest, too busy defending to be much of an attacking threat.
The amount of heavy-duty defensive work illustrated the extent to which the favourites found themselves under the cosh. Outwitted by his opposite number at the start, he made at least three try-saving tackles to keep Leinster’s noses in front until the last 70 seconds.
Nobody could have offered stouter defensive resistance in defying La Rochelle’s bludgeoning power for so long. Went above and beyond the call of duty in manning the barricades almost until the very end only for Arthur Retiere’s telescopic reach to prove decisive.
A fearless tackle on Will Skelton proved the old adage about the harder they are, the bigger they fall. Alas, when it mattered most, not even he could save the favourites from failing to score a try for the first time all season. Went closest with the rare feat of beating Jonathan Danty as if he wasn’t there.
Unbelievable, for all the wrong reasons. Shut down so completely that he could hardly raise a gallop ball-in-hand, all the more surprising after a run of 13 tries in eight matches. Notable only for a few thumping kicks from the left boot.
Knew what was coming pre-match, a brick outhouse in the shape of Danty careering into him at every opportunity. Kept getting up for more in between picking La Rochelle off for their mainly first-half indiscipline until the cumulative effect of the blows forced him to sit out the last quarter.
Had his team not ultimately been pulverised into last-minute submission, his would have been a critical role in leading the resistance. His work-rate would have made the average Trojan look like a layabout, never more so than in averting one crisis near half time.
One moment stands out close to half-time: La Rochelle’s feed into a scrum five metres from the Leinster line. Despite around 300 kilograms of power coming through from the tighthead side of the scrum, Porter & Co. not only refused to buckle but won a penalty.
Suffered an embarrassingly early withdrawal, amid initial claims that it had been made for ‘tactical’ reasons. Later it emerged that he had damaged a hand which would explain his final act – a throw so wayward that it landed nearer the opposition scrum-half than his own jumpers.
Caught out along with O’Brien by Dillyn Leyds’ sleight of hand in sending Rhule through for the opening try. Found Danny Priso a tougher opponent than any encountered en route to the final and watched the final unrelenting onslaught as a helpless bystander.
Started where he left off against Toulouse in the semi-final, cranking the line-out maul into overdrive. The first set-piece, stopped by illegal means after making serious inroads, turned out to be just about as good as it would get before the French saboteurs got to work.
Went the distance and desperately close to lifting the final, brutal siege in almost redefining the meaning of a rearguard action. A look at the tape will surely leave him wondering his team could concede so many penalties and somehow avoid a single yellow card.
Fell some way short of his own highly demanding standards. Fumbled one re-start, conceded the penalty which allowed La Rochelle to build their second-half recovery and might have found himself in the bin before giving way to Rhys Ruddock.
Offered only the one example of why he has become just about the best openside wing forward in Europe: a rampaging run which required four opponents to stop. That apart he, like Leinster, spent far too much time baling water in a desperate attempt to keep afloat.
Ended an otherwise outstanding season in the rare position of suffering by comparison to his opposite number, the formidable Gregory Alldritt. Fought hard to the bitter end trying to stem the tidal wave of the men from the Atlantic coast.
They almost defied the odds despite conceding three tries and scoring none only for justice to be seen to be done.
Dan Sheehan (for Kelleher, 16 mins), Cian Healy (for Porter, 62), Ross Byrne (for Sexton, 62), Michael Alaalatoa (for Furlong, 62), Rhys Ruddock (for Doris, 66), Luke McGrath (for Gibson-Park, 75), Joe McCarthy (for Molony, 77).
Got away with the sort of unnecessary risks which will have given Ronan O’Gara a few more grey hairs. The longer the game went, the better he got, a series of raking touch-finders forcing Leinster to concede acres of territory. 6
Spread consternation throughout the blue defensive wall by drifting far from his natural habitat on the right wing. Twice he appeared on the opposite wing, engineering one try for Raymond Rhule and almost another. Too subtle by half.
The variety of his passing posed early problems leaving Leinster fortunate not to concede tries on more than one occasion. Gibson-Park’s refusal to give up any cause as lost prevented one before La Rochelle’s pack decided to keep the ball for the pummelling which eventually paid off.
Leinster knew all week what was coming, the France centre being launched like a missile into their midfield. His roughing up of Johnny Sexton may have been no more than par for the course but he lasted only a few minutes longer than his venerable opponent.
His classic in-and-out wing’s try put the skids under Leinster inside ten minutes. From there on the Ghanian Springbok proved a constant source of danger, a cut above anything Leinster could offer as an attacking threat.
Went into the match under something of a cloud after his failure in front of the posts during the semi-final against Racing. Took painstaking care not to miss a single shot without ever quite inspiring his backs into blazing action.
Rose to the occasion in dynamic response to those who bemoaned the loss of former All Black Kerr-Barlow. Never gave up anything as a wild goose chase, often hounding Leinster into errors in critical parts of the field.
On this evidence, he must harbour ambitions of making the France national sprint squad for the 2024 Olympics. A force of nature in the tight and loose before La Rochelle could afford the luxury of replacing him with another mighty prop in Reda Wardi.
Magnifique. Never missed his jumpers all match, a dominant figure at the break-down and a try-scorer to boot. And to think he was not considered good enough to get even the most fleeting of look-ins into the Grand Slam campaign.
A set-piece colossus whose official weight varies between 145 and 152kg. Liable to be a bit of a luxury in the loose, a small mercy for which leinster were grateful when the gigantic tighthead ruined one dangerous back line move by getting in the way of West’s pass.
Guilty of a sneaky little trip on Gibson-Park which could so easily have sabotaged the entire campaign. Three points and ten minutes in the bin gave Leinster sorely needed encouragement that they could somehow survive the ordeal. Pointedly, Lavault did not return.
A performance every bit as collosal as the man himself – 6ft 8, 21 stone. Leinster’s nemesis during their last final against Saracens three years ago, he made history repeat itself and lasted the full 80 minutes into the bargain.
Pinged for an early penalty but still played a significant part in stoking the fires of those around him to guarantee Leinster a pack of trouble. Lasted for an hour before being replaced by Remi Bourdeau for the last quarter.
Another outstanding French back row prospect pressed into action because of the reshuffle over Victor Vito’s enforced absence. The 21-year-old stepped up for the biggest match of his career by giving it everything despite a head blow which forced him to miss eight minutes.
Made his first carry within the opening 20 seconds and emerged as another reason why everyone’s favourites outside the Atlantic seaport came off second best. The Champions’ Cup on top of the Grand Slam is no more than his unflappable leadership deserves.
Much more effective than Leinster’s. The replacement front row of Facundo Bosch, Reda Wardi and Joel Sclavi ensured that the onslaught reached its matchwinning crescendo thanks to the finishing power of the smallest man on the field, substitute scrum half Arthur Retiere.