A lot for Leinster to reflect on after being picked apart by La Rochelle

Leinster were dominated physically by French side, and undermined by mistakes

The nature of the 32-23 defeat will hurt for quite some time. Apart from the opening 20 minutes at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre, Leinster were very much second-best to La Rochelle, tied down and dominated physically and, in an effort to wriggle free, undermined by indiscipline and mistakes.

Death by a thousand cuts until La Rochelle’s outstanding colossus Will Skelton bullocked over for a try and removed any lingering thoughts of unlikely redemption for the visitors.

Three times Leinster have been undone in the Heineken Champions Cup since their fourth title success – twice by Saracens and now La Rochelle, teams that smothered Leinster physically. The composition might have been slightly different in orientation from match to match but there was a common theme, a conundrum that players and coaches will have to solve.

Leinster may also reflect on why they didn’t/couldn’t get the ball to the edges quicker or on more occasions, where they did get limited traction, including one good try-scoring chance. La Rochelle’s aggressive line speed put pressure on a visiting team that lacked their traditional clarity and fluency; some of the passing, handling and decision-making lacked the customary accuracy and assurance.


It was just disappointing, that first 20 minutes of the second half, we couldn't get into our flow, into our attack, and ultimately that is probably where the game was lost

Leinster captain and scrumhalf Luke McGrath tried to briefly cast off the fug of disappointment to explain where the team had come asunder. “It’s a very disappointed changing room; everyone is very quiet in there at the minute.

“We started very well but probably didn’t convert enough pressure into points, an extra try to expand on that lead.”


He admitted that Leinster had started the second half poorly and found no way to counter La Rochelle’s ability to create pressure in dominating territory.

“We are going to have to look back on it but there were opportunities there. If we were a little bit more accurate we could have converted that pressure into points.

“It was just disappointing, that first 20 minutes of the second half, we couldn’t get into our flow, into our attack, and ultimately that is probably where the game was lost. I don’t know how many turnover penalties they got but they have such good poachers in their team.

“They went very hard at their defensive ruck and our attacking ruck and we weren’t able to deal with the threats well enough. It’s unfortunate but credit to La Rochelle. They are extremely hard to get off the ball when they are on it.”

He singled out giant tighthead prop Uini Atonio, Victor Vito and Levani Botia as power runners who caused Leinster problems on the ball before alighting on Skelton as a key performer for the victors. “Skelton was brilliant, he was able to get over the gain line and put us under pressure, which is disappointing for us unfortunately.

“It’s extremely difficult to stop him. He got a lot of front foot ball and that’s what we had talked about all week, about minimising that [access]; we had to put two-man tackles on him every single time, he was still getting over the gain line and therefore they were on top.”


The Skelton appreciation society included his outhalf Ihaia West who marvelled: “He’s a machine, just look at the size of him, but the way he gets around the field, the way he carries that size and weight is awesome.

“When he gets us front foot ball, it’s just so much easier to play off and also defensively as well, he’s awesome with our lineout defence, being able to stop other teams’ mauls, and in European rugby that’s massive and goes a long way to helping your defence.”

For Leinster there’s a trip to the Sportsground next weekend in the Rainbow Cup. McGrath admitted: “ It is going to be a very tough week, especially the first few days, but we have to move on as quickly as possible. We have to back each other up now.”