Today we start our overview of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, with last season’s beaten finalists, Stade Rochelais, the first club to go under the microscope.
European Cup record
La Rochelle’s Heineken Champions Cup final defeat last season came in just their third ever campaign in Europe’s elite competition. The year before, the TOP 14 side were knocked out at the pool stage, while the 2017/18 season saw them beaten 29-17 by Scarlets in the quarter-finals. They also reached the Challenge Cup final in 2019, but lost 36-16 to ASM Clermont Auvergne.
La Rochelle produced a string of outstanding performances to reach the final, victories over Gloucester Rugby (27-16) and Sale Sharks (45-21) in the early knockout stages preceding a phenomenal 32-23 win over four-time European champions Leinster Rugby in the semi-finals. However, they fell to a gut-wrenching 22-17 defeat by Stade Toulousain in the final at Twickenham Stadium.
Director of rugby
Ronan O’Gara took over from Jono Gibbes in July following the New Zealander’s departure for Clermont. The Irishman, a two-time Heineken Cup winner with Munster Rugby and the competition’s record points-scorer, had been head coach at La Rochelle for two years after cutting his coaching teeth at Racing 92 and NZ outfit Canterbury Crusaders.
Back-row forward Grégory Alldritt was nominated for the EPCR European Player of the Year award last season after a series of terrific performances, while lock Will Skelton is a former Heineken Champions Cup winner with Saracens. South Africa centre Raymond Rhule and New Zealand scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow are both important figures in the backs.
La Rochelle will take on Glasgow Warriors and Bath Rugby in Pool A of the Heineken Champions Cup. The French side faced Glasgow twice in the pool stage of the 2019/20 competition, falling to a 27-24 defeat at home before claiming a 12-7 victory in Scotland.