The quest for five Europeans titles will have to wait another year for Leinster who bowed out of this year’s European competition with a surprising defeat to French club La Rochelle.
Coached by former Munster player and Ireland international Ronan O’Gara, La Rochelle held Leinster close at halftime before dominating the second half to run away as 32-23 winners.
The physical, confrontational style of La Rochelle was reminiscent of past defeats for Leinster in big European games, having lost a final to Saracens in 2019 on the back of dominant display from the Saracens pack.
Leinster were again knocked out of European play in 2020 by Saracens, when they hosted the relegated Premiership club in a home quarterfinal at the Aviva.
The defeat to La Rochelle left many fans questioning the strategy, saying they need to ‘re-think how they play against dominant collision winning teams’ with mounting evidence that the current approach isn’t working.
One fan described the defeat as a ‘paddlin’ beyond what you’d have expected for Leinster’ and another suggested they needed to ‘start producing more animals’ or play a smarter game.
An oft-overlooked point but all the same, Leinster will need to rethink how they play against physically dominant collision winning teams. If it means needing to be clinical, fine, but evidence is mounting this isn’t a good strategy.
— Brian Connell (@BrianConnell67) May 2, 2021
La Rochelle are very, very good but that’s a paddlin’ beyond what you’d have expected for Leinster. Never fired a shot outside the first ten minutes
— Ronan Murphy (@Ro_Murph) May 2, 2021
Leinster and Irish rugby have a problem with the power game. Today again brings the problem up. Need to either start producing more animals or play more clever like Ireland v England in Six Nations #LARvLEI
— Telf's Rugby (@RugbyTelf) May 2, 2021
Lose collisions, lose the game – unless you kick really well.
Leinster lost a lot of collisions and didn’t kick well so they struggled badly against a massively powerful La Rochelle. #LARvLEI
— Three Red Kings (@threeredkings) May 2, 2021
Hooker is okay, I think. But teams Leinster face in the final 4 in Europe are going to have freakishly large and physical players from around the world in their starting XV. Leinster will struggle to match that with Irish qualified players.
— Karl Brophy (@KarlBrophy) May 2, 2021
'People come to Leinster to learn about their system… now they're going to go to La Rochelle' | ?
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) May 2, 2021
The leinster where unlucky line is being played on alot of channels, they were roundly beaten and swatted aside, they never had a chance after 15 minutes, no unlucky on the day shite.. they were disposed by a better side who shouldve scored more #LARvLEI
— la ROGChelais (@Kingof_Munster) May 2, 2021
Speaking on Off the Ball, Irish coach and pundit Bernard Jackman called it a ‘very disappointing’ loss after last year’s quarter-final defeat to Saracens at home in Dublin.
“That third quarter, La Rochelle took it by the scruff of the neck, got scoreboard lead and didn’t look back. They didn’t let Leinster back into the game,” he said.
“No matter what Leinster tried, La Rochelle had an answer for it. Very disappointing day for Leinster, on the back of the Saracens defeat in the Autumn, to lose today to a team like La Rochelle who don’t have a European pedigree will definitely hurt.
“That’s the worry for Leinster, when they come up against teams with that power, can they handle it?”
“Saracens did it to them a couple times, Racing had them under serious pressure in that final they won and today, La Rochelle, really took away any area of the game Leinster thought were going to be strengths for them.”
“They’ve got two titles already this year but this is the one they really want. They judge themselves on being champions of Europe but they’ve fallen short again.
When asked whether their is a worrying trend for Irish teams suffering heavy defeats at the hands of physical teams, Jackman said that it is a byproduct of playing the same way at domestic level and expecting it to work against stronger teams.
“That’s what we use to dominate teams in the Pro14. So we bully teams in the Pro14, we’re more physical, more powerful than the majority of teams we play against.
“So that’s the problem, we get away with it week in week out, and then coming into the business end of Europe, or at international level, that tactic doesn’t work.
“We don’t have the habits of trying to unlock it through creativity so it’s definitely a worry for us.”
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