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

By Josh Raisey
(Photo by PA)

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’.

“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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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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J
Jon 8 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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FEATURE Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink
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