RugbyTalking Point

Leinster react perfectly in pressure points as they blow away La Rochelle

Every time La Rochelle staged a mini revival, Leinster found a riposte

Leinster received a gut check either side of the first quarter in the 40-13 victory over La Rochelle, moments that threatened to release the gremlins of European knockout defeats past but on this occasion they mustered a more than adequate response to those pressure points.

The home side led 10-0 when on 19 minutes they looked destined to score once again, another sweeping attack, a heavy barrage from the pack in terms of a full-frontal assault, the precursor, to a glimpse of the La Rochelle line.

Jamison Gibson-Park tried to use James Lowe’s power to sneak a try in the corner, but the visitors managed to hold the Leinster wing up over the line. Several minutes later and it was the Leinster’s scrumhalf who was denied by a double tackle from Grégory Alldritt and Tolu Latu, Gibson-Park adjudged, following TMO Tom Foley’s review, to have been held up over the line.

To compound the frustration La Rochelle outhalf Antoine Hastoy kicked a penalty. It is a moment when the mental scars begin to resurface, to ache but Leinster subdued an unease, resolute in their focus. Ross Byrne kicked a brace of penalties and converted Gibson-Park’s try, following Lowe’s dexterous flick and at 23-6 heading to the interval, Leinster seemed set fair.


There would have been a bit of a niggle with regard to the two penalties they conceded at restarts, referee Karl Dixon penalised Caelan Doris on both occasions; but no fuss, the scoreboard reflected the home side’s dominance.

And then. In first-half injury-time Leinster conceded three penalties on the bounce, which gave La Rochelle the field position from which they eventually worked a maul try for prop Louis Penverne. Hastoy converted to put a much brighter slant on the scoreboard.

Leinster had played all the rugby but led by just 23-13. La Rochelle, the comeback kings, had reeled in larger deficits, this season and explicitly in last season’s final between the teams. Leinster had missed 15 tackles, conceded seven penalties, had left the door ajar after the first 40 minutes but if there were any doubts, they were expunged in the dressingroom.

Andrew Porter’s penalty turnover epitomised the home side’s laser focus and what followed eradicated any lingering uncertainty. Ryan Baird’s try provided the adrenaline shot to kick on once again and this Leinster did with a couple more tries.

The satisfaction for the group, coaches, and players, was the response to setbacks, losing fullback Hugo Keenan on the morning of the match to a recurring hip issue, not taking those two gilt edged chances in the first half, they never blinked and instead found a salve for any scar tissue. Every time La Rochelle staged a mini revival, Leinster found a riposte.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer