None of Leinster’s outside backs made a pass in the final - a remarkable and telling stat

It’s harder to argue that Leinster should have won, La Rochelle dominated possession and didn’t allow them to

It was the one that got away and the one that won’t go away. Rarely has a match lingered in the memory and seemingly remained such a source of discussion and debate among Leinster fans in the week that followed. It’s the game that can’t be parked.

It was a fascinating match to preview and it proved an equally fascinating match to review. So many moments seemed to carry huge significance and reviewing the video one uncovers more of them or else sees them uncovered on social media.

Like the clip, a second after the match-winning try by Georges-Henri Colombe, of Thomas Lavault diving on to the pile of bodies and seemingly catching Michael Ala’alatoa on the head with his shoulder. The thought occurred, not for the first time this season, that if Ala’alatoa had stayed flat on the ground the incident might have been reviewed.

Of course, Ala’alatoa would subsequently be the culprit when sent-off entering the last two minutes after going off his feet and catching Colombe on the head with his shoulder.


As Ronan O’Gara said afterwards, one has a degree of sympathy for Ala’alatoa as he and Leinster sought to translate one last wave of attacks into a match-winning score and so also atone for losing last year’s final to the same opposition in the last play. What’s more, Jaco Peyper had long since let the breakdown become a war zone.

Regrets, Leinster will have a few, and none more than Ala’alatoa. Watching him on his own with his young kid after the game, one can only imagine the thoughts swirling around his head then and all week, for if that’s the case for us imagine what it’s like for the players? They hadn’t any holidays booked until next week, and there won’t have been any escape in Dublin or the province this week.

The abiding emotion is one of empathy for them, that a season which yielded a Grand Slam for a good chunk of them and saw Leinster set the pace in both the URC and Champions Cup end with a defeat which will leave stones underneath their beach towels.

[’From hell to heaven’: French media reacts to La Rochelle’s Champions Cup win over Leinster]

The most extraordinary statistic arising out of the match was highlighted by Brett Igoe on Twitter, namely that none of the starting Leinster backs, ie Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose in midfield, nor the outside three of James Lowe, Jimmy O’Brien and Hugo Keenan made a single, solitary pass between them. The column of zeros actually looks like one of those online misprints, as if the line hasn’t been updated.

Charlie Ngatai, off the bench, did make two passes but it is a remarkable statistic which tells us much.

Firstly, such was the quality of Leinster’s launch plays, and also the defence in the build up to the third try, that their three-try salvo in the opening dozen minutes didn’t require much input from the five outside backs.

Lowe made one brilliant 50/22 and strong carry off Jamison Gibson-Park, there was a strong carry by Keenan from Gibson-Park’s skip pass and a tidy finish by O’Brien from Ross Byrne’s sumptuous pass which – amazingly, was the outhalf’s only pass in the first-half (he made nine in total).

When inside the La Rochelle 22 for the endgame, once again Leinster understandably attacked relatively narrowly, or at any rate on the blind side or through hard carries off nine, save for that gallop out wide by Ngatai from Byrne’s pass.

Secondly, of course, the column of zero passes by the three quarters and fullback also demonstrates how La Rochelle’s aggressive line speed, quality of tackling and both contesting over the ball and counter-rucking prevented Leinster from getting into their customary high tempo running game and width.

And thirdly, La Rochelle simply dominated possession, especially in the second-half until the last seven minutes.

Perhaps, in their review, Leinster will have looked at how they might have done things differently, and sought to play to the edges more from deep in the second-half. But ultimately La Rochelle negated Leinster’s passing game by restricting them to 68 passes in total (while making 138 themselves).

By comparison, Leinster made 130 passes in their semi-final against Toulouse (including 18 by the five outside backs) and 172 passes against Leicester (including 23 from that quintet of players).

All in all, it makes it harder to argue a compelling case that Leinster should have won, despite their flying start, or that they played their rugby – primarily because they weren’t allowed to do so.