LA ROCHELLE DARE TO DREAM
Their long-suffering fans have waited 122 years
Eight wins from the opening ten matches has Les Corsaires at the summit of the TOP 14 so, you will forgive their long-suffering fans for getting giddy. One hundred and twenty-two years is a long time to wait. So the question is: Do they have what it takes on and off the field to go all the way?
A star-studded coaching team orchestrating a championship charge
Current Director of Rugby and former New Zealand international, Jono Gibbes, has a wealth of experience in winning titles. Having won four European trophies and two domestic titles as Leinster’s forward coach, Gibbes has winning pedigree that will inspire his players at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
Gibbes also can draw on the wealth of experience of Ronan O’Gara, who has been La Rochelle’s head coach since 2019. As the fourth-highest point scorer in the history of test rugby, O’Gara’s CV speaks for itself. With two such experienced winners guiding the La Rochelle ship, this team will take some stopping this season.
Has congested fixture scheduling rewarded La Rochelle for its depth of squad?
A well-balanced squad, combining some of France’s most exciting players with imports from the southern hemisphere, means the depth La Rochelle boasts has aided this fast start to a season. With domestic games running on international weekends, and a congested fixture schedule due to COVID, never has it been more important to have depth in all positions.
This depth has allowed them to cover their international losses. Grégory Alldritt, Arthur Retière and Brice Dulin have all been selected for Les Bleus, but La Rochelle’s depth of squad has allowed them to maintain form thanks to likes of Victor Vito, Dillyn Leyds and Ihai West.
Are the odds in La Rochelle’s favour after a strong start?
Recent history suggests that the team who finishes highest in the league table has the best chance of becoming eventual champions after the play-offs. Half of the teams who have finished first since the league became the TOP 14 have gone on to win the title and lift the Bouclier de Brennus. But finishing number one is no guarantee of success, as La Rochelle fans will painfully recall from 2017. They finished TOP of the league by seven points but fell to eventual losing finalists Toulon in the semi-finals.
La Rochelle’s strong start this season has been mainly down to its unerring home form. The team have six wins from its opening six games at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre, including an emphatic 62-3 win over Castres to go with victories over Racing, Clermont, Brive, Toulon and Bordeaux.
La Rochelle loss versus Toulon in 2017/2018
Attack wins game, but defence wins Championships!
A balance between defence and attack has been the hallmark of La Rochelle this season. Whilst it boasts the third highest point scored per game (28 pts/game), it is the defensive stats that sets it apart from the rest of the teams in the TOP 14. Conceding, on average, under 18 points per game, shows how, despite their flowing, attacking style of rugby, the defensive duties are never neglected.
Calling on the experience of Ronan O’Gara, who works as both attacking and defence coach, there is a nice balance between going forward and keeping the opponent at bay. It has racked up big wins over Brive, Pau, Castres and Bayonne; and also gritty defensive efforts such as the 9-6 win over Racing in November.