Leinster 'welcome' La Rochelle in Champions Cup final rerun

rugby19 May 2023 03:22| © AFP
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Leinster 'host' holders La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final on Saturday with the Irish province playing at Lansdowne Road for the eighth time this season.

Ireland's national stadium is a 15-minute walk from their RDS Showground home and their training complex is less than four kilometres away.

The ground will be sold-out with blue shirts the majority as their side eye a joint-record fifth title, and revenge for last year's loss at the same hurdle.

"The energy they can bring is huge, whether it's inspiring a player to go the extra yard, to influencing a player to make a play, it all has a part to play," Leinster head coach Stuart Lancaster told RTE this week.

"It will be an amazing occasion so get in early, please," the ex-England coach added.

La Rochelle head to the Irish capital after winning last May's decider in the baking Marseille heat but this weekend a large part of the vocal 52 000 crowd will be baying for their blood.

"It's difficult to really prepare for that, it comes with age, experience," La Rochelle coach Ronan O'Gara told reporters on Monday.

"At away matches in France there are stadiums with hostility, but Saturday will be different, it's a home game for them," the ex-Ireland fly-half added.

- 'SUMO' -

Leinster's most recent visit to Lansdowne Road came in last weekend's United Rugby Championship semifinal loss to bitter rivals Munster, O'Gara's former side.

It was just their sixth loss in 46 games at the Aviva Stadium, as it has been known for sponsorship reasons since its renovation in 2010.

"We have the phrase SUMO," Lancaster said.

"Shut up and move on, and you have to put it to bed and not drag it around because if you spend all your time looking backwards, you can't see what's in front of you," the future Racing 92 coach added.

Twelve months ago, Lancaster's men headed to the Cote d'Azur also eyeing a fifth crown but were stopped by a 79th minute La Rochelle try as the French club claimed their first Champions Cup.

"We don't overly reference last year's final as a coach because you're just filling their minds full of negative images. Last year it came down to the final play," Lancaster said.

"You take lessons from it but you don't dwell on it too long.

"You don't want to become obsessed with it," he added.

On Thursday, La Rochelle were seen off on their journey from the port town on the Atlantic coast by hundreds of fans at the airport.

The trip to Dublin on Saturday will be their third straight Champions Cup final and their local popularity has blossomed in recent years with their Stade Marcel-Deflandre home sold-out in the French Top 14 all season.

"We're all in the loop with what happens here," O'Gara said.

"Every 100m in the region there's a flag.

"It's not just in La Rochelle, 100km to 200km from La Rochelle.

"It's not possible for everyone to be in Dublin, so we'll play for them.

"We know the opponents, the conditions and the stadium are not favourable, but let's go."