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La Rochelle powered past Exeter in today's semi-final. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Familiar Foes

Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle set up another Champions Cup final date with Leinster

The French side came out on top when the two teams met in last year’s decider in Marseille.

HOLDERS LA ROCHELLE will play four-time winners Leinster in the Champions Cup final after despatching Exeter 47-28 in the semi-final in Bordeaux on Sunday.

The 20 May final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium will be a repeat of last year’s decider, which saw La Rochelle run out 24-21 winners over Leinster in Marseille.

It promises to be an entertaining affair given La Rochelle’s attractive high-tempo, offloading game-plan masterminded by coach Ronan O’Gara, who twice won the cup with Munster.

High-flying Leinster hammered Top 14 leaders Toulouse 41-22 in their semi-final on Saturday.

“The goal was to come back to this competition and win it again,” said La Rochelle fly-half Antoine Hastoy, who converted six of his team’s seven tries.

ronan-ogara-with-the-media-ahead-of-the-game La Rochelle boss Ronan O'Gara. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“When it gets to knock-out rugby, the squad gets into this mode. Leinster are a monster team, always present for the big matches. There remains one match for us…” Hastoy told BeIN Sport.

At the Matmut Atlantique in Bordeaux, which will host five matches at this year’s Rugby World Cup, it was Exeter who opened the scores, No 8 Sam Simmonds driven over for a try after the English side dominated early possession and territory, converted by his brother Joe.

La Rochelle hit straight back, however, livewire South African winger Raymond Rhule gathering a clever Hastoy grubber after a break by Julien Favre.

Hastoy converted and was also successful after a second try by Australian centre and man-of-the-match Ulupano Seuteni, who sailed through a gap after a Gregory Alldritt turnover deep in Exeter territory.

ultan-dillane-is-tackled-by-tom-wyatt-and-olly-woodburn La Rochelle's Ultan Dillane is tackled by Tom Wyatt and Olly Woodburn. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Exeter then leaked two converted tries while down to 14 men after hooker Dan Frost was yellow carded after 30 minutes for collapsing a maul.

La Rochelle made the English side pay immediately after the carding, the ubiquitous Alldritt going over unfettered from a scrum five metres from the line.

More was to come with Frost still binned as Kiwi scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow finished off a flowing offloading move with Exeter at sixes and sevens in defence.

Hastoy made no mistake with the extras to leave it 26-7 at half-time in Bordeaux, where the majority of the raucous 41,204-strong crowd were bedecked in the black and yellow of La Rochelle.

Rhule got his second try — and La Rochelle’s fifth — just three minutes into the second period, latching on to a pinpoint Hastoy cross-kick to touch down, the fly-half booting the conversion.

tawera-kerr-barlow-scores-a-try-under-pressure-from-jannes-kirsten Tawera Kerr-Barlow of La Rochelle scores a try under pressure from Exeter's Jannes Kirsten. Manuel Blondeau / INPHO Manuel Blondeau / INPHO / INPHO

Exeter’s pain was not over as La Rochelle hooker Pierre Bougharit was driven over from a rolling maul, Hastoy adding the extras.

Rhule was on hand to haul down Sam Simmonds just metres from the line, but Exeter’s pressure paid off as replacement prop Josh Iosefa-Scott rumbled over.

La Rochelle responded through Kerr-Barlow, who battled his way over for his second try after Teddy Thomas broke the defence.

Olly Woodburn and Jack Yeandle both crossed for consolation tries, Joe Simmonds hitting the conversions.

But it was all too little, too late, as the French side were well clear in a comprehensive victory in an entertaining 11-try run-out in warm southwestern France.

– © AFP 2023 

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