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European Champions Cup Final Prediction: Leinster v La Rochelle

History will be made or repeat itself when Leinster and La Rochelle face off in the final of the European Champions Cup for the second successive year on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

European Champions Cup Final Leinster La Rochelle

History will be made or repeat itself when Leinster and La Rochelle face off in the final of the European Champions Cup for the second successive year on Saturday (17:45 kick-off SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The Aviva Stadium in Dublin is the cathedral for the continental showpiece and will be packed to the brim as Leinster look to exact revenge for last season’s heartbreak. 

The Stade Vélodrome in Marseille was the venue where Arthur Retiere’s converted try with two minutes left on the clock saw La Rochelle snatch a 24-21 win and clinch their first European crown.

The teams have been on a collision course ever since, both topping their respective pools and flexing their muscles in the playoffs to march into the winner takes all rematch unbeaten. 

Leinster have been untouchable on their road to the final. They’ve blown away all comers and scored an average of 44 points per game. Even Toulouse were no match for the Irish giants, who showed why they’re the title favourites as they romped to a 41-22 semi-final win. 

La Rochelle had close calls against Ulster (7-3) and Gloucester (29-26) in the pool phase and Round of 16 respectively before shifting into top gear to overpower Saracens (24-10) in the last eight and crush the Exeter Chiefs (47-28) in the semis. 

Ever since it was announced that the Aviva was selected as the venue for the final, before the tournament had kicked off, it seemed Leinster were destined to claim their record-equalling fifth crown. 

However, despite having home-ground advantage, all the pressure will be on them after they crashed out of the United Rugby Championship with a shocking home semi-final defeat for the second year running last weekend, this time by Munster (16-15). 

Leo Cullen’s one of the most astute coaches in the game but got it wrong by selecting a second-string side with no failsafe on the bench. It wouldn’t have hurt their European ambitions to put frontline players on the pine and there’s now suddenly a sense of déjà vu that they could, like last year, end up empty-handed. 

Ronan O’Gara’s charges will want to play on that by getting off to a good start, which is imperative as Leinster are masters of effectively winning games early. The key to the French outfit’s title triumph last year was their heroic defence and they’ll have to be at their best in this department again if they are to repeat the feat.

Leinster are ferocious, fast, fluid and intense. They boast skilled ball players from 1 to 23 and constantly shift the point of attack. They top most of the stats as a result, including most tries. Their 43 touchdowns are eight more than the next-best Chiefs and 15 more than La Rochelle’s tally. 

La Rochelle are renowned for their giant pack but of equal importance is the supreme fitness of their forwards, which gives them the sustained strength to overpower the opposition and makes them such a good challenge for Leinster, whose conditioning and depth are too much for most to handle. 

La Rochelle’s fundamentals are their biggest strengths. They have a dominant scrum, a marvellous driving maul and are brilliant at the breakdown. When they’re on, like they were against Exeter, they’re lethal on attack as well with Springbok duo Raymond Rhule and Dillon Leyds giving them extra sting. 

The one area La Rochelle has shown weakness is their discipline. They’ve conceded more penalties (83) than any other team, which is damning against a team with the unrivalled class, cohesion and killer instinct of Leinster.

It’ll be a titanic battle, but the aforementioned advantages, the lessons learned last year and playing in front of a sold-out home crowd should see Leinster secure their fifth star. 

Prediction: Leinster by 7.

Suggested Bet: La Rochelle +8.5 at 1.85.

Bonus Notes

• Holders, La Rochelle, have reached the European Champions Cup final for the third season in a row, and having qualified for the 2019 European Challenge Cup decider, the club’s appearance on Saturday will be their fourth EPCR final in five years.

• Toulouse, in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and Toulon (2013, 2014, 2015) are the only other clubs to have qualified for three consecutive European Champions Cup finals.

• Leinster will be appearing in a seventh European Champions Cup final and will be looking to equal Toulouse’s record of five titles.

• If Cian Healy is selected in Leinster’s match day 23 for the final, and if the Irish province are victorious, he will become the first player in history to win the tournament five times.

• Healy could also set a new tournament record of seven final appearances surpassing his total of six which he shares with Leinster teammate, Johnny Sexton, and Cédric Heymans of CA Brive and Toulouse.

• La Rochelle captain, Greg Alldritt, has made the most carries this season with 112 from his seven matches to date.

• The final will be the sixth between Irish and French clubs with the Irish currently leading the way with four victories to one.

• Antoine Hastoy of La Rochelle is this season’s leading scorer with 85 points, four ahead of Leinster’s Ross Byrne on 81. Josh van der Flier is the top try-scorer with six while Tawera Kerr-Barlow has crossed for five.

• If they are named in their respective match day 23s, both Tadgh Furlong and Brice Dulin will make their 50th European Champions Cup appearances on Saturday.

• Players from eight different countries – Argentina, Australia, Fiji, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa – are likely to feature in Saturday’s showpiece match which will be watched by TV viewers in close to 200 countries worldwide.

• Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien is the tournament’s top metre-maker on 449 and he also has made the most line breaks with 13.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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