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Leinster will face Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final

La Rochelle beat Racing 20-13 in a nervy semi-final in Lens.

Racing 13

La Rochelle 20

LEINSTER WILL TAKE on La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final in Marseille on 28 May after Ronan O’Gara’s side edged past Racing 92 in a nervy semi-final.

The decider in two weekends’ time will give Leinster a chance to avenge their semi-final defeat away to La Rochelle last season, when captain Johnny Sexton was missing.

ronan-ogara La Rochelle boss Ronan O'Gara pictured before the game in Lens. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

O’Gara’s men were beaten by Toulouse in last year’s final and are seeking their first-ever Champions Cup trophy.

Leinster will go into the clash as favourites following their superb 40-17 win over Toulouse in yesterday’s first semi-final and are now one win away from earning their fifth European crown, which would draw them level with Toulouse’s record.

O’Gara and his coaching staff, including forwards coach Donnacha Ryan, will be mightily relieved after squeezing past Racing in what was a poor game in Lens in the north of France, Racing having moved their home fixture there with their own Paris La Défense Arena unavailable due to hosting two concerts this weekend.

La Rochelle out-half Ihaia West missed three very kickable shots at goal, eight points in total, in this semi-final but les Maritimes had just about enough to earn their place in the final. They will feel they should have taken greater advantage of Racing being down to 13 men for eight minutes in the second half due to two yellow cards. Indeed, they were lucky Racing scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec missed two kicks at goal in that period.

O’Gara’s side were also fortunate that Racing’s Teddy Thomas – who will join O’Gara’s side this summer – didn’t give a pass to Juan Imhoff in the 66th minute, when the latter would have strolled in for a possible winning try. After that miss, La Rochelle went down the other end and scored a clinching try through West with the clock in the red. 

There will be concern over a hand injury for scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow ahead of the final, while La Rochelle also have a huge Top 14 clash against Stade Français next weekend as they battle for a play-off spot in the French league. Mammoth lock Will Skelton is already out injured, with his season seemingly over.

Leinster’s front-liners, meanwhile, will have the weekend off as Leo Cullen rotates his squad for their final regular-season URC game at home against Munster, having already secured top spot in the league.

Nonetheless, La Rochelle will pose a real threat to Leinster in the European final, with their scrum and maul power likely to be particular causes for concern. Their defensive breakdown work is superb and they have plenty of dangerous attacking weapons in a squad that includes several world-class players.

They were deserved winners against Leinster last season and will back themselves to improve vastly for the final. It promises to be an absorbing Champions Cup decider.

gael-fickou-finn-russell-and-teddy-baubigny-celebrate-with-try-scorer-virimi-vakatawa Virimi Vakatawa after scoring Racing's first-half try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Racing drew first blood in this semi-final in Lens, with 20-year-old Le Garrec slotting a penalty to reward their impressive start.

West soon missed a sitter with his first penalty shot as La Rochelle came back into the contest on the back of strong breakdown work from the likes of prop Dany Priso.

Left wing Raymond Rhule thought he had bagged the first try for les Maritimes in the 21st minute after scooping the ball from the side of a Racing ruck in their own 22 and sauntering over, but penalty referee Matt Carley undertook a TMO review and decided it was a penalty to Racing because the ball hadn’t been out.

Five minutes later, Racing did score the first try through centre Virimi Vakatawa. It stemmed from La Rochelle captain Grégory Alldritt’s knock-on in his own 22, Racing muscling up from their scrum attack, winning penalty advantage, and moving the ball to Vakatawa to step inside centre Jérémy Sinzelle and fend lock Rémi Picquette to score. Le Garrec converted for a 10-0 lead.

West was on target with a penalty in the 33rd minute then La Rochelle spent the closing stages of the first half camped on the Racing tryline, with massive pressure from their forwards, first at the maul, then through two scrum penalties.

With the clock deep in the red, Alldritt picked and barged over through Le Garrec from the third consecutive five-metre scrum. West had another poor shot at goal with the conversion attempt and O’Gara’s side trailed 10-8 at the break.

mike-prendergast-with-donnacha-ryan Racing attack coach Mike Prendergast and La Rochelle forwards coach Donnacha Ryan pre-match. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

La Rochelle continued their momentum upon the restart but West had a third shocker of a miss off the tee in the 46th minute as his penalty came off the right post from a very kickable position.

And Racing were able to extend their lead to 13-8 soon after as Le Garrec popped over the three points when Carley pinged La Rochelle for a deliberate knock-on as the scrum-half looked to move the ball away from the breakdown.

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But Racing’s own poor discipline finally told in the 52nd minute as hooker Camille Chat was sin-binned for a breakdown infringement, paying the price for their concession of 12 penalties in total by that stage.

O’Gara’s men kicked into the left corner and a thunderous maul earned them a penalty try, with Racing number eight Yoan Tanga following Chat into the sin bin for collapsing it en route to the tryline.

With Racing down to 13 men, the penalty try took La Rochelle into the lead for the first time in the game at 15-13.

However, La Rochelle were poor in the ensuing minutes against 13-man Racing and were fortunate not to concede the lead as Le Garrec missed twice in quick succession with penalty attempts as the game ticked into the final quarter.

matthew-carley-awards-a-yellow-card-to-yoan-tanga-by-mistake-which-is-later-awarded-to-cedate-gomes-sa-instead Racing had two men in the bin at the same time during the second half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Restored to 15, Racing applied pressure in La Rochelle territory but Thomas failed to give the scoring pass to fellow wing Imhoff down the left when it was a walk-in try. The ball simply had to go.

La Rochelle’s replacement fullback Pierre Popelin had a shot at goal from a few metres inside his own half in the 69th minute but came up well short and still they led by just two points.

They were able to finish in style, however, as West dove over in the right corner following pressure from the La Rochelle pack.

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