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La Rochelle continue their search for a maiden European title when they host four-time European Cup winners Leinster Rugby in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals on Sunday afternoon.
The French outfit are in uncharted territory, having reached the last four of Europe’s premier club rugby competition for the first time in their 123-year history.
They face a perennial European powerhouse in Leinster, who have four stars to their name following victories in the 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018 finals.
The action gets under way at 15:00 British and Irish time at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre and will be broadcast live on FR2, beIN SPORTS, BT Sport and Sky Italia.
Leinster Rugby: 1st in Heineken Champions Cup Pool A; 10 points
La Rochelle: 4th in Heineken Champions Cup Pool A; 9 points
La Rochelle 45-21 Sale Sharks
Exeter Chiefs 22-34 Leinster Rugby
Heineken Champions Cup head-to-head record
The sides have never met in the Heineken Champions Cup
Leading 2020/21 points-scorers
La Rochelle: Ihaia West (26)
Leinster Rugby: Ross Byrne (37)
The weekend is fast approaching and we're all expecting a thriller in this one 🤩
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 27, 2021
Jono Gibbes (La Rochelle): “I received an unbelievable education from Leinster. It was formative and an important part of my career, my life and I’m really grateful for that. But that doesn’t diminish my desire to beat these guys on Sunday.”
Devin Toner (Leinster): “At this stage in Europe you just want to play the best teams. We did really well against Exeter Chiefs and La Rochelle are one of the best teams in Europe at the moment. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are in the semi-finals – the best teams are in it.”
- This will be the first time that La Rochelle and Leinster have met in European competition.
- This is La Rochelle’s first appearance in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals.
- Leinster have won 25 of their last 28 completed games in the Heineken Champions Cup, averaging 32 points scored per game across those victories.
- Six of Leinster’s last seven matches at the semi-final stage of the Heineken Champions Cup have come against French opposition, winning three and losing three of those clashes.
- La Rochelle have won five of their seven completed home games in the Heineken Champions Cup, including their solitary such game against Irish opposition (41-17 v Ulster, 2017/18).
- Leinster are on a five-game winning run against TOP 14 opposition, their best–ever such streak in the Heineken Champions Cup.
- Raymond Rhule has scored three tries for La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup this season. He has also successfully caught all 16 kicks that have come his way, the most of anyone not to fumble one.
- Johnny Sexton (Leinster) is one point shy of becoming the fourth player to reach 700 points in the Heineken Champions Cup (also Ronan O’Gara, Stephen Jones and Owen Farrell).
- Only two players have made more tackles than Josh van der Flier (48) in the Heineken Champions Cup this season. The Leinster flanker has also won four turnovers for his side. Only three players have won more.
- Kevin Gourdon (La Rochelle) has the best average gain (6.3m per carry) of any forward to make more than 15 carries in the Champions Cup this season, with only one forward making more breaks than him (4).
Match Centre - Preview - Lineups
La Rochelle will compete in the Heineken Champions Cup final for the first time after a stunning 32-23 win over four-time European champions Leinster Rugby in Sunday’s last four clash at Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Second-half tries from Gregory Alldritt and Will Skelton as well as 22 points from La Rochelle fly-half Ihaia West secured success for the French outfit, who outplayed the Irish province in the latter stages with clinical attacking play as well as a superb defensive effort.
La Rochelle made a slow start and were seven points down just after the ten-minute mark when Tadhg Furlong was able to power over after a string of carries close to the line, with Wiaan Liebenberg heading to the sin bin in the process.
The French side were in no mood to lie down though, and it was West who tucked over a penalty kick and then a drop goal to cut the lead to a point, before Ross Byrne responded with a three-pointer of his own.
Byrne would slot over another on 28 minutes but La Rochelle ended the half on top and it was soon 13-12 to the visitors as West proved clinical from the kicking tee, nailing a pair of penalty kicks.
The iconic Twickenham Stadium will host the 2021 #HeinekenChampionsCup final with a limited number of fans permitted to attend 🤩
Details ➡️ https://t.co/naHHmlJQUA
Take a look back the glorious winning moments from the previous finals held at Twickenham 👇 pic.twitter.com/GrJB8zDuh1
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 30, 2021
The two sides continued to trade successful penalty kicks in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, but when James Lowe was shown a yellow card on 58 minutes with the score at 18-16 to the hosts, La Rochelle began to turn the screw.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow first thought he had scored crossed for La Rochelle, but after he was short of the line, the hosts did go over with Alldritt collapsing over the line with help of Skelton.
Skelton would get in on the act on 75 minutes for the match-winning try, with the driving maul proving too strong for the Leinster defence which splintered with surprising ease.
Byrne did score and then convert his own try with two minutes to play, but it only proved a consolation with La Rochelle running out nine-point winners – they will take on Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup final later this month at Twickenham.