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Wallabies star Will Skelton praised for welfare-first sportsmanship in European final

By Kim Ekin
Stade Rochelais player Will Skelton celebrates on the final whistle during the Heineken Champions Cup Final between Leinster Rugby and Stade Rochelais at Aviva Stadium on May 20, 2023 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

An act of selfless sportsmanship by Wallabies star Will Skelton concerning the welfare of Leinster’s lock James Ryan has been praised during La Rochelle’s shock final win.

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Skelton had been driven backward by Ryan in a tackle before the Irishman took an accidental knock by another La Rochelle player.

The Australian noticed something not quite right with Ryan and immediately called on referee Jaco Peyper to stop play.

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Ryan left the field in the 29th minute and did not return which was a pivotal turning point for Leinster while Skelton turned in a mammoth performance to lift La Rochelle to victory.

The giant second-row Skelton helped inspire his French club to overhaul home-based Leinster – and a 17-0 deficit – to win their final 27-26 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

He made 14 carries and produced three offloads in an 80-minute performance as his La Rochelle side pulled off one of the great European Champions Cup final comebacks.

La Rochelle didn’t lead until eight minutes to go, after Antoine Hastoy coolly converted Georges-Henri Colombe’s try off a close-in ruck.

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Yellow cards reduced both sides to 14 men. La Rochelle were desperately defending their tryline in the 79th minute when Leinster’s Austraian-born Michael Ala’alatoa charged into the head of Colombe in a ruck and was sent off while the Frenchman was carried off.

The French visitors cleared their line and moments later were celebrating their European crown in front of a stunned Leinster and their supporters.

La Rochelle also overcame Leinster in a come-from-behind win in the final last year for their first title, but not from as deep a hole as on Saturday.

“They said we couldn’t do it, come to Leinster and win, but we did,” Skelton beamed.

“Leinster are a world-class team and we had to dig deep. At 17-0 down, we still had the belief.”

La Rochelle’s Irish coach Ronan O’Gara emphasised to his team at halftime how Leinster had lost their previous two finals.

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“23-14 felt like a great halftime result for us,” O’Gara said. “One of the staff reminded me we were minus eight in Marseille (last year) and today we were minus nine, so we built a little story about that to get the boys pumping.

“We had the internal energy and we had a great grip on the second half. We won the hard way which is very, very pleasing.”

– Additional reporting AAP

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1 Comment
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GrahamVF 394 days ago

I am a firm Leinster fan having spent some time in Dublin. However I am concerned about the strategic planning of Leinster and by extension Ireland. The collective psyche is taking a battering. A Club like Leinster should never have allowed a 60 point loss under any circumstances. They should not have lost to Connacht and this is the culmination of a downward cycle. Has Ireland yet again peaked too soon 😞

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