Any EPCR investigation into the half-time verbal exchange involving back room staff from both La Rochelle and Leinster at Saturday’s Champions Cup final is not going to begin for at least another couple of days. The direction it then takes will most likely hinge on Jaco Peyper’s version of events.
On foot of the South African referee’s interpretation of the matter, it remains to be seen whether the tournament organisers will subsequently seek statements from any other parties. No EPCR representative witnessed the heated exchange after the conclusion of the first-half.
The seeds of the row appear to have been sown at last year’s final between the same two sides, with several Leinster sources claiming that the La Rochelle head coach, Ronan O’Gara, approached the match referee in Marseille, Wayne Barnes, during the interval to air some grievances about some decisions in the first-half.
Mindful of that, it is understood that one of the Leinster assistant coaches, Sean O’Brien, was stationed inside the tunnel before the end of the first-half to prevent O’Gara approaching Peyper. The Leinster dressing-room was nearer those of the match officials than the La Rochelle dressing-room.
Reports then vary as to whether O’Gara was prevented from speaking with Peyper by his former Irish team-mate Sean O’Brien or was politely rebuffed by the South African officials. Either way, O’Gara and O’Brien, had a verbal spat and others joined in, including several from La Rochelle – with reports again varying as to whether Will Skelton was part of the row – and Johnny Sexton, who also briefly exchanged words with O’Gara before the matter ended. The episode apparently lasted 30 seconds at most.
The EPCR “will be investigating this as soon as practicable”. But most likely, nothing will come of the incident, especially if there was little or no exchange with the match officials, and it’s possible that O’Brien’s intervention with O’Gara prevented that from happening.
Last Saturday’s titanic final, which La Rochelle won by 27-26, was also overshadowed somewhat by the post-match claim from the winning captain Grégory Alldritt that his counterpart James Ryan had shown him disrespect at the prematch coin toss.
“From the toss, already, we were not respected,” claimed Alldritt. “He (Ryan) didn’t look me in the eye when he shook my hand. And that should not be done. There are a lot of values in our club.”
Yet, completely contrary to what Alldritt claimed, there are pictures of Ryan clearly looking Alldritt directly in the eye. But such a narrative is all part of O’Gara instilling the belief in his team that Leinster did not respect them.
O’Gara further stoked the fires when adding: “Yeah, I got word of it down on the pitch. Obviously, I have a close relationship with my captain – a bizarre action when they were going for the toss. Normally you engage eyes and no eyes were engaged. Greg was disappointed and let down.”
O’Gara also said: “Obviously Leinster were the home team in terms of accommodation for the families, post-match gigs. I think we’re in Lansdowne. We couldn’t get a room in this place. It’s disappointing on that front, but we’ve got to accept that we’re seen as the little team, but that’s about to change.”
However, the final was not a Leinster game and EPCR offered both clubs a room for a post-match gathering to accommodate up to 100 people. La Rochelle wanted a room for 300 and so opted to hire a bigger room in the adjacent Lansdowne club house, while the beaten Leinster squad decamped to the RDS for an altogether more solemn gathering.