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Leinster player ratings vs La Rochelle | Champions Cup final

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Leinster player ratings: A nail-biting Heineken Champions Cup final that went down to the wire in Marseille was dramatically tipped the way of La Rochelle with a converted try to leave the French club first-time winners of the trophy and deny Leinster their much-desired fifth star. The Irish province were huge pre-match favourites against an opposition that was minus two World Cup-winning All Blacks in the injured Victor Vito and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

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They led for most of the contest but inaccuracies rendered them unusually tryless and left them dependent on penalty points kicked from the tee. They kicked seven from seven, six coming from skipper Johnny Sexton before he trudged off.

But those points weren’t enough to enable them to steer clear of the tremendous gallop that La Rochelle generated in the final quarter despite the handicap of a cheap yellow card for Thomas Lavault. So powerful was their riposte that they turned a 10-18 deficit into a 24-21 win that was sealed by Arthur Retiere touching down with 78:48 on the clock.

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It was an outcome that will fill Leinster with regret as the swashbuckling performance they produced in Dublin in the semi-final to dethrone defending champions Toulouse was washed away at Stade Velodrome.

Their envied attack was blunted and their defence was undone by an opposition that scored three well-taken tries, the last an incredible score after an intoxicating final ten minutes was played out deep inside the Leinster half.

Retiere, their sub scrum-half, slipped on the carry but it proved to his advantage as he was able to acrobatically wriggle the ball to the line under his outstretched arm despite the attentions of Garry Ringrose. Here are the Leinster player ratings:

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15. Hugo Keenan – 5.5
This Rolls-Royce of a player has rarely come under the type of pressure he was forced to endure by a well-oiled La Rochelle. He was left grasping at the air for the opening Raymond Rhule try and continued to have loads of traffic directed his way, culminating in the no-release penalty concession that ignited the opposition surge at the hour mark.

14. Jimmy O’Brien – 6
One of just two Leinster starters yet to be capped at Test level by Ireland, he had numerous good moments in the biggest game of his career, some nice breaks and some decent covering including tackling Gregory Alldritt into touch on one occasion. However, he was directly at fault for the opening Rochelle try, stepping in and allowing the offload to get away to create the hole that was exploited.

13. Garry Ringrose – 6.5
Started brightly with his carry forcing the infringement that allowed Sexton to open the scoring and he went on to have some other encouraging involvements on both sides of the ball. Executed one try-saving tackle in what was set to be a heroic last stand but cruelly became the player who couldn’t prevent Retiere from scoring the decisive try.

12. Robbie Henshaw – 7
Tried to lead the charge when he could but the Rochelle defence was unforgiving with Jonathan Danty his direct opponent. Gutsy effort.

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11. James Lowe – 5.5
Took 45 minutes for him to contribute in attack, winning a lineout when he kicked a loose ball at a covering defender. Did some good aerial work near the end but this was a contest where the French sidelined him.

10. Johnny Sexton – 6.5
Provided cup final leadership, for the most part, kicking all six of his penalty attempts to have Leinster 18-10 up despite the team not collectively playing well. However, he suffered a first-half foot injury in friendly fire from James Ryan and constantly has Danty running down his channel before his day dramatically unravelled when he was caught in possession on gathering Brice Dulin’s missed drop goal and tossing Keenan a trouble-making pass that was a momentum changer.

9. Jamison Gibson-Park – 7
His slick pass had been the talk of the tournament but there was no silver service provided by his pack on this occasion. That said, he kicked well and long and his tremendous energy was illustrated by the intelligence he exhibited when shutting down a late first-half attack where Rochelle seemed certain to score. Was the player who was later tripped for the yellow card but that sin-binning wasn’t the game’s decisive moment.

1. Andrew Porter – 6.5
Tough going and he emptied the tank during his 63 minutes. Normally of great nuisance value at the breakdown but that eminence didn’t materialise here.

2. Ronan Kelleher – No rating
Sadly gone after just 14 and a half minutes with a hand problem evident in a wildly crooked lineout throw and then when quickly standing up at a scrum that was penalised.

3. Tadhg Furlong – 6.5
Shrugged off injury concerns by trucking it for 63 minutes. Couldn’t do anything to prevent an offload in the lead-up to the opening try but demonstrated his worth in his specialist department when winning a pressure-relieving scrum on 38 minutes five metres from his line on a Rochelle put-in.

4. Ross Molony – 7
His determined contribution was best illustrated by how two lineout fetches set in train mauls that he led to win some early penalties, a tactic that worked again early in the second half when James Ryan was the catcher. Great engine to go 77 minutes in his coming-of-age season.

5. James Ryan – 7
His voracious work rate was encapsulated by the number of times he was the player spotted on the ground waiting for the opposition scrum-half to play the ball away after he had effected a tackle or contested a breakdown. Tried his hardest to keep the yellow wall at bay and nearly succeeded.

6. Caelan Doris – 5.5
A disappointing outing by his extraordinarily high standards. Struggled for notice but showed class when tidying up the scramble situation that eventually led to the penalty on the stroke of half-time for a 12-7 lead. Rochelle had his number, though. He was penalised for three points after a carry in his 22 at the start of the second half and would likely have been yellow carded for a bind change at the maul had Pierre Bourgarit not scored on 60 minutes.

7. Josh van der Flier – 6.5
Has been tremendous all season but the post-game announcement that he had been voted the European player of the year wouldn’t have amused him in the aftermath of an afternoon where his red-capped exploits weren’t as dominant as previously. A moment on 56 minutes highlighted the difficulty, trying to nibble at a Will Skelton carry that went to ground only for him to go off his feet and fall out of the contest.

8. Jack Conan – 6.5
Demonstrated safe hands in the early stages but then missed a lineout catch on 21 minutes. Hard yards were the story of his day but that agonisingly wasn’t enough to get his team over the line.

Replacements:
16. Dan Sheehan (for Kelleher, 15); 22. Ross Byrne (for Sexton, 62); 17. Cian Healy (for Porter), 18. Michael Ala’alatoa (for Furlong, both 63); 20. Rhys Ruddock (for Doris, 67); 21. Luke McGrath (for Gibson-Park, 76); 19. Joe McCarthy (for Moloney, 77).

The Leinster bench didn’t have the composure to see the victory home. Aside from one lineout overthrow, Sheehan fitted in well after his early introduction and one offload near the interval was exceptional. Byrne did kick his team’s seventh penalty for 21-17 on 65 minutes but two fumbles, one that went back and the second that was a knock-on, showed how nervous he was replacing Sexton in a nerve-shredding situation not helped by Ala’alatoa giving up a ruck penalty during that result-defining pressure period at the end.

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