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Dublin: 1°C Friday 7 May 2021
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Hello and welcome to our live coverage of today’s European Champions Cup semi-final meeting between La Rochelle and Leinster.

The French side are in the semi-final stages for the first time, while Leo Cullen’s Leinster are hoping to take another step towards landing that record fifth Champions Cup title.

We’ll have all the action as it happens live from the Stade Marcel Deflandre, where kick-off today is at 3pm.

As always, there’s plenty of great reading to enjoy on The42 to get you in the mood for the game, including Murray Kinsella’s match preview, which you can find here.

Garry Doyle took a look at the rise of Ross Byrne, with input from Andy Dunne, Eddie O’Sullivan and Darragh Fanning, which you can read here.

Leinster arrived a short while ago. It’s about 15 degrees today on the sunny west coast of France.

devin-toner-arrives-with-stuart-lancaster-152021 Source: Manuel Blondeau/INPHO

Quite the welcome for the two teams outside the stadium. Just five minutes to go until kick-off now.

la-rochelle-fans-outside-the-stadium Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

1min: Ross Byrne kicks us off and we are underway in France.

4Mins

A nervy start for La Rochelle as they spill the kick-off. Leinster’s first lineout of the afternoon runs smoothly, they go through the phases and win an early penalty but Ross Byrne pulls what looked a relatively straightforward kick wide to the right. He’ll be really disappointed with that.

9Mins

A great start for Leinster, who have dominated the early play here. La Rochelle had already been warned about their discipline by referee Matthew Carley after giving away a couple of early penalties, and following the next phase of play Wian Liebenberg is sent to the bin.

Leinster hammer away at the La Rochelle line and after coming up just short a few times, Tadhg Furlong has the power to get over the line and score the game’s opening try. Ross Byrne converts with ease.

12Mins

La Rochelle make their first visit to the Leinster 22, but Robbie Henshaw makes a big tackle, Josh van der Flier wins the turnover and James Lowe clears the danger to send the French side back down the pitch.

15Mins

La Rochelle get on the board with a sweetly struck penalty from out-half Ihaia West after Leinster are pinged for collapsing a maul.

19Mins

La Rochelle are growing into the contest here. They enjoy a bit of possession in Leinster half and after failing to find a way through the Leinster defence, they set up for the drop-goal. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes from West but the New Zealand splits the posts and La Rochelle pull it back to a one-point game.

21Mins

And just like that Leinster extend their lead through a Ross Byrne penalty. It was a more difficult position than the earlier effort he dragged wide, but this time the Leinster 10 nails the kick.

22Mins

La Rochelle are now back to their full compliment as Liebenberg rejoins the action.

27Mins

Leinster trying to mix things up a bit now. They hammer at the La Rochelle line but struggle to find a gap. With a penalty advantage, Ross Byrne tries the chip though but the bounce of the ball just evades James Lowe, who gives his 10 a thumbs up for the effort.

The play is brought back for that penalty and Byrne kicks another three points. The hosts need to sort out the discipline here or this game will get away from them.

28Mins

An early change for Leinster as Ryan Baird comes in for Rhys Ruddock, it’s not immediately clear why Ruddock has had to come off. 

33Mins

Another penalty for West. It came after a big carry from Levani Botia, who was tackled to ground by Byrne but the Leinster out-half was then pinged not rolling away, and it’s an easy three points for West.

36Mins

Another three points for La Rochelle but it could have been much more.

West produces a lovely cross-field kick to Victor Vito, but the big No 8 is held up just short by a combination of Jordan Larmour and Luke McGrath. La Rochelle recycle the ball across the pitch and it looks like they’ve lost the chance, but win a penalty advantage. The play is eventually brought back and West kicks another three points to make it a one-point game again.

40Mins

A nice attacking move from Leinster sees Lowe play in Larmour, who breaks into some space down the right flank. With La Rochelle defenders closing in he tries to fire a pass inside to Luke McGrath but it’s incomplete, and La Rochelle can clear the danger.

Well then, Leinster lead by one at the break. La Rochelle ended that half well, pounding away at Leinster defence but Leo Cullen’s side held firm. With Cian Healy and Robbie Henshaw putting in some important tackles before James Lowe kicked clear and ended the half.

It’s been a game low on quality moments, with plenty of errors. La Rochelle in particular will be keen to sort their discipline out in the second half. It’s also worth noting the hosts have struggled at times under the high ball as they played into the sun, something Hugo Keenan and Co will need to be wary of in the second period.

Tadhg Furlong gets the slaps on the back after scoring his early try. 

tadhg-furlong-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-jordan-larmour-and-cian-healy Source: Manuel Blondeau/INPHO

41Mins

The second-half is underway in France.

42Mins

BT Sport have confirmed that Rhys Ruddock came off in the first half with a calf injury. No further changes for either team at the break.

46Mins

La Rochelle win a penalty off the back of a strong scrum and use the opportunity to get right down towards the Leinster 22. They win the lineout, maul forward, and then work the ball right across the pitch and back again. Botia goes to ground awkwardly after carrying into contact, with Henshaw and Conan combining to bring the big centre down.

We’ll have a stoppage in play now as Botia receives some treatment.

48Mins

Botia gets his right boot strapped up and looks like he’ll be able to continue. Play resumes with a La Rochelle penalty and West has no problem finding the posts to give the hosts the lead for the first time. A big moment in this game.

49Mins

Tadhg Furlong carries into Will Skelton and seems to come off the worst. We have a quick TMO check as Furlong appeared to lead with the arm, but it was tucked and the referee says it’s ok. We’ll resume with a Leinster scrum.

Meanwhile, Botia has had to come off and is replaced by Pierre Aguillon. 

58Mins

La Rochelle are really putting Leinster under pressure now, with Skelton making a couple of big carries. West eventually chips over the top, Larmour is happy to leave it but the ball hits the touch flag, bounces back into play, and the Leinster wing is very lucky no La Rochelle player is on hand to dot down.

In the midst of that passage of play, James Lowe gets pinged for a penalty and is yellow carded as West kicks La Rochelle back in front.

61Mins

Ed Byrne and Andrew Porter have come in for Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong. La Rochelle win another penalty, West sizes up the posts from the half-way line and strikes it well but the ball smacks off the post. 

64Mins

Another La Rochelle penalty, this time it’s Pierre Bourgarit with the jackal on Jack Conan. Brice Dulin kicks for the corner, but Devin Toner steals the ball at the back of the lineout and Luke McGrath clears, but gets no distance on his kick. 

 

65Mins

This time La Rochelle win the lineout and maul forward before Bourarit peels away. The home side go through the phases, with another big Skelton carry gaining good ground, before working the ball out to the left wing. Aguillon has a snipe but is brought to ground. Tawera Kerr-Barlow tries his luck but is held up on the line by Josh van Flier.

The on-field decision is no try and the TMO can’t find a clear grounding. That’s a massive moment from Van der Flier.

La Rochelle take control as Alldritt powers over from close range with some help from Skelton, who is having a massive influence in the second half. West kicks the conversion and Leinster have a little over 10 minutes to claw back a nine point deficit. 

Leo Cullen’s side have really been on the backfoot in the last 20 minutes.

73Mins

Scott Fardy is in for Devin Toner. Will it be the Australian’s last Champions Cup appearance for the province?

Leinster are still under the hammer here. Lowe skies a kick and La Rochelle attack down the right with some silky offloads, and win another penalty.

74Mins

La Rochelle turn down the shot at goal and West kicks to the corner. 

74Mins

Well that’s that. La Rochelle win the lineout, maul forward and that man Skelton peels away to power over the line. He’s been immense in this second half.

West kicks the conversion to put his side 16 clear as we enter the final five minutes of play.

78Mins

A rare venture to the La Rochelle 22 sees Byrne snipe through a gap for a clever try. He hurriedly clips over the conversion.

80Mins

Leinster lose possession from the kick-off and La Rochelle attack again but the move breaks down. Play restarts with a Leinster scrum, McGrath attacks down the right but is brought to ground. Leinster are going through the phases now deep in their own half with a minute to play.

So heartbreak for Leinster as their search for a fifth Champions Cup title ends in France. After a slow start, Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle were brilliant in that second half – with Will Skelton immense– and fully deserved the win as they march on to their first European Cup final.

We’ll have Garry Doyle’s match report and all the reaction from the game shortly. Thanks for joining our live coverage this evening.

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Ciarán Kennedy

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