One final voyage for Les Corsaires as La Rochelle dream of historic final victory!
La Rochelle out to exact revenge on Toulouse after Champions Cup final defeat.
Romain Ntamack ruled out of final after suffering head injury in semi-finals.
80 minutes lie between La Rochelle and a historic maiden TOP 14 Championship title. This would have seemed like a distant dream for La Rochelle fans when their side began their campaign back in September; a testament to the work that Jono Gibbes and Ronan O’Gara have put in throughout a campaign.
However, in their way, lie the most successful team in French rugby history, Toulouse. The current European Champions have their eyes set on a European and domestic double, a historic feat they last achieved in 1996!
La Rochelle’s performance against Racing in the semi-finals was a great reflection of how they have done so well this season; by being resolute in defence. Racing’s star-studded outfit, featuring Fickou, Russell, Zebo and many other world stars had no answers to La Rochelle’s defensive resolve. In a tight game, where fine margins make the largest differences, it was one moment of quality from Brice Dulin which secured La Rochelle’s spot in the TOP 14 final! Off the back of an attacking scrum, the French fullback provided a delightfully weighted chip over the defence for the on-rushing Arthur Retière to score the decisive try!
Toulouse’s semi-final victory over Bordeaux was a much closer affair. However, after Ntamack and Ben Lam exchanged first half tries, the key moment of the game came on the hour mark. A reckless and high tackle from Ulupano Seuteni on Romain Ntamack was the turning point. With Bordeaux leading, the Samoan international flew out the line to make a tackle on the French fly-half but got his timing horribly wrong and made contact with Ntamack’s head, leaving the referee with no option but to send him off.
Ntamack, who has been ruled out of the final with this head injury, is a hard man to replace. However, with Toulouse in need of a moment of inspiration, Thomas Ramos, in at fly half, scored the try that would send Toulouse to yet another TOP 14 final! Man of the match in the semi-final, Ramos will be hugely important for Toulouse, especially in Ntamack’s absence.
Discipline will be key for both sides in this final. La Rochelle will know the importance of keeping 15 men on the pitch. La Rochelle matched Toulouse all game in the Champions Cup final despite Levani Botia being given his marching orders only 28 minutes into the game but came up just short. It will not be lost on Jono Gibbes and Ronan O’Gara, that if they had kept a full complement on the field of play, they may have finished the day as European Champions.
One major influence on this game, that cannot be underestimated, is that of Antoine Dupont. The Toulouse scrumhalf, who many believe is the World’s best player currently, has a major influence on every game he plays. His electric speed of thought coupled with his mercurial ability on the ball make him one of the most influential players on the planet. La Rochelle will have to nullify his influence on the game, slowing the game down and limiting the spaces around the fringes, but with Antoine Dupont, it is much easier said than done!
This game has all the makings of another great TOP 14 clash! The two best teams in France and in Europe go head-to-head for one final grand slam occasion! Who will be lifting the Bouclier de Brennus aloft come Friday evening? This one is going to be special, and we can’t wait!