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The reason why Brian O'Driscoll backs Leinster to beat La Rochelle

By Liam Heagney
Leinster and La Rochelle run out for last year's final in Marseille (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Three-time Heineken Cup winner Brian O’Driscoll has predicted that Leinster will win this Saturday’s Champions Cup final rematch in Dublin with La Rochelle. The Irish province agonisingly came up short against the same French opposition in last year’s decider in Marseille, but Leo Cullen’s side now has the opportunity to exact revenge in their Aviva Stadium backyard.


It’s a chance that O’Driscoll, a trophy winner in 2009, 2011 and 2012, believes his old club will take, his optimism boosted by recently sitting down and watching a re-run of last year’s final which only tipped the way of La Rochelle with a late converted try.

“I watched back the final again; they lost in the last minute, right,” said O’Driscoll to RugbyPass when asked what gives him confidence that Leinster can win on this occasion. “They were in front for the vast majority of the game.

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“You look at how La Rochelle spoiled them, how they kind of dominated them at the ruck at times, how at set-piece they had a bit of dominance as well.

“They are all areas that Leinster are going to have to put right and if they can do that, like the spoiling at lineout, the timing of passes, hitting inside shoulders, the timing of runs, all of that has a negative knock-on effect to Leinster’s launch.


“Leinster are very good from lineouts, score a lot of their tries from it, so if you can stop that source, you go a long way towards stopping Leinster getting into their groove, so Leinster are going to have to try and counter that this time around.

“They have got to get their scrum right, they have got to get their ruck right and then they have to not get spooked by the shooters that undoubtedly will be coming out of the line.


“As much as it was tough viewing the last couple of weeks, they will be looking back on that final to understand where they went wrong and then you draw breath around all that – they lost it in the last minute.

“La Rochelle played very well, Leinster a little bit off, and that is probably where the two teams lie still. If Leinster play their best and La Rochelle play their best, for me Leinster at the moment are still a better team.”

An unexpected bump in the road, though, was last Saturday’s surprise URC semi-final loss at home to Munster. Admittedly, Leinster only fielded three of the same starters that were in their European semi-final XV for the win over Toulouse as numerous players were rested ahead for the upcoming final versus Le Rochelle.

O’Driscoll, however, doesn’t downplay the significance of the defeat. “There will be a huge portion of that group of players that have played their last game of the season… and you have to fight against that,” he said about the Leinster squad’s preparations this week.


“Of course, they are massively professional and they will be preparing the team, but it’s not an ideal situation to come into a Monday of a Champions Cup final week having had a bitter defeat against one of your big rivals and you are not going to be vying for domestic honours in a final for the second year on the bounce having won the four previous ones. It’s not insignificant.

“That said, they do have the opportunity to put it right this weekend and if they can get the accuracy of their game and all the detail right, which they struggled with last year, they know they will pose serious problems to La Rochelle.


“So it’s a matter of can they really focus on themselves and get those little inaccuracies right and then hopefully the rest will take care of itself.

Ronan O’Gara got the strategy right against Leinster last year. Very difficult at the ruck, they were a pain in the backside flying off the line giving them no space and then trying to get after their set-piece, slowing them down, slowing their possession down at lineout and making it a bit disjointed and then really after getting after them at the scrum.

“If you do all of those components again this time around against Leinster, you make it hard for them. If Leinster are able to produce in those areas, they will win against this La Rochelle team.”

This Saturday will be the fourth time the Heineken Champions Cup final will be staged in Dublin. Ulster (1999), Toulouse (2003) and (Toulon 2013) were the winners, events that O’Driscoll, the then-Leinster player, purposely gave a miss.

“I wouldn’t have watched them. I wouldn’t have watched that many European finals I don’t think. Certainly, not ones that other Irish provinces were involved in, that is for sure.”


He will be at Aviva Stadium this weekend, however, in his capacity as a BT Sport pundit and he reckoned Leinster must deliver or it could well sully the legacy of senior coach Stuart Lancaster, who takes over as Racing director of rugby this summer after seven seasons in Ireland.

“It shouldn’t be defined on victory or success but the reality is it could well be,” he admitted.

“He won in 2018 but to have two final losses, other semi-final defeats, defeat to La Rochelle, defeat to Clermont, it does feel as though this team, not just Stuart, needs to win this time around to cement themselves as this great European superpower that has played brilliant rugby up until finals in the last five years.

“It feels as if they need to get this one done. It doesn’t have to be pretty – they just need to get a one-point victory of some sort and lift that trophy to cement themselves.

“They will be a great European team but there will be question marks around their ability in the biggest games if they aren’t able to get it done against La Rochelle this weekend.”

  • BT Sport is home to the Heineken Champions Cup. Watch this year’s final between Leinster and La Rochelle from 4pm, Saturday, May 20, live and exclusively on BT Sport 2. Visit


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