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« Damn, they’re good »: the British press between adoration of the Rochelais and frustration at Leinster’s performance

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The British media emphasized how much La Rochelle’s power hurt Leinster on Sunday, as it had in the Irish’s previous two semi-finals against the Saracens.

« Damn, they’re good ». In French: « Damn, they’re good.  » The first sentence of the review of La Rochelle – Leinster (32-23) in The Irish Times says it all about the impression left by the French club on Sunday, in the semi-finals of the European Cup. Former Irish center Brian O’Driscoll, consultant for Off the Ball, praises « an incredibly well organized performance defensively by La Rochelle. They adopted a physical strategy with Uini Atonio, Gréogry Alldritt and Will Skelton spearheading the attack. Leinster simply couldn’t contain them, like the Saracens the last two years. La Rochelle were too strong on the basics, with the three specimens (Atonio, Alldritt and Skelton) they have.  »

Irish Times journalist John O’Sullivan also points to a similar scenario in Leinster’s last two finals defeats. The Saracens (in the 2019 final and in the 2020 quarter-final) used their physical strength and locked-down defense to prevent Leinster from developing their game. The Rochelais developed the same strategy.

During these three matches, « the composition was different but there is now this common theme, this enigma that the players and staff must solve » notes the Irish daily. Another trend highlighted by the Irish Times is « passive defense », as well as too many fouls (14) and dropped balls. The Independent headlines more scathingly « Leinster still struggling at the giants ». Once again considered as favourites, Leo Cullen’s men « could not have hoped for a better start to the game » according to the newspaper, which is a source of further frustration. As a reminder, the Rochelais conceded five penalties, a yellow card and a try from Furlong in the first eight minutes.

La Rochelle « favorite » for the title
But across the Channel, the press also remembered the gigantic performance of the Maritimes. « Colossus », « powerful », « devastating »: Will Skelton is associated with all sorts of glorious adjectives. Also for Off the Ball, Brian O’Driscoll seems resigned to the second line’s multiple qualities: « As soon as you get ready to collide, he switches to another player close to him. And as soon as you expect him to give, he crushes you like a bulldozer.  »

« The beauty of the Rochelais is that they can play almost any way: fast or slow, wide or tight.  »
The Rochelais pack also graced the pages of the Telegraph, with the sobering headline « La Rochelle forwards dominate Leinster ». The Guardian evokes a « triumph of power », and goes on to take a more philosophical approach: « The beauty of the Rochelais is that they can play almost any way: fast or slow, wide or tight. « The Irish Independent highlights the ability of Ronan O’Gara’s men to « grow as the game goes on ».

The Irish paper also pays tribute to the « touch » left by the former Munsterman and Jono Gibbes on « the master plan » put in place to thwart the four-time European champions. Levani Botia has not been forgotten in the UK either. The Telegraph uses the metaphor of the Fijian as the « unicorn of rugby », as his positional changes and his mix of power and speed are a force as precious as they are rare in the yellow and black squad. Finally, according to The Guardian, La Rochelle are « favourites » for the final against Toulouse while, for the Irish Times, « it could be a long week » for Leinster.

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