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Video: Flags and flares create raucous atmosphere as La Rochelle fly out for first Champions Cup final

By Josh Raisey

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La Rochelle were met by a sea of flags and flares as they set off for London on Thursday ahead of their first Heineken Champions Cup final appearance on Saturday. The raucous crowd that usually fills Stade Marcel-Deflandre was out in full force as Jono Gibbes’ team arrived at the local airport, filling the air with yellow smoke and a wave of chants two days before they face European giants Toulouse.

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Although they clearly have a lot of support at home, history is not on the side of La Rochelle entering this final. Their opponents are not only playing in a record seventh final, but they are aiming to become the first team to win European rugby’s top prize five times. 

Meanwhile, La Rochelle have only made one European final, losing to Clermont in the 2019 Challenge Cup in 2019. However, based on this season alone, there is little separating the sides. 

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Toulouse sit at the summit of the Top 14 table, but only by a solitary point ahead of La Rochelle. Moreover, La Rochelle laid down a marker in the Champions Cup semi-finals by beating four-time winners Leinster with relative ease. 

In terms of experience in the competition, there is only one previous winner on each side. The 34-year-old Maxime Medard started on the Toulouse wing in the 2010 victory over Biarritz, while La Rochelle lock Will Skelton started for Saracens in the 2019 final victory over Leinster.  

Skelton has spoken highly of his head coach Ronan O’Gara this week, a two-time winner with Munster during his playing days and a European great. “I remember, in one of my first games against Toulouse, he ripped into me, Lopeti (Timani) and Uini (Atonio), and he just said in front of the whole team, ‘You’re not fit enough’.

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“It was a wake-up call that I had probably been saying in my head, but then to hear it from one of the coaches was an eye-opener. I guess he is that type of coach. He is pretty direct, he is straight, and I enjoy it.”

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Video: Flags and flares create raucous atmosphere as La Rochelle fly out for first Champions Cup final

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