the favorites and claws of our special correspondent
After the great victory of the Maritimes over the Chiefs (47-28) in the semi-finals, find…
After the great victory of the Maritimes over the Chiefs (47-28) in the semi-finals, find out what caught the attention of our special correspondent in Bordeaux.
The Maritimes will defend their title
10 years ago, Stade Rochelais was in Pro D2. In 2023, he will play his third Champions Cup final in a row. Confirming, if it were still needed, that the Maritimes reigning European champions are now part of the big leagues. With strength, calm and efficiency, they methodically demolished the Exeter Chiefs (47-28) on Sunday, scoring seven tries. This season, Her Majesty’s subjects are doing well at Les Rochelais: after beating Northampton twice in the pools, they eliminated Gloucester (29-26) in the round of 16, Saracens (24-10) in the quarterfinals and, therefore, Exeter to win. reach the final. In p***ing, they improved their record of consecutive victories in the competition, with now 15 wins in a row since the final lost against Toulouse in 2021. Formidable. Another record: this Sunday, they beat the number of points scored by a French club at this stage of the competition. Two new chapters in the Guinness Book… It now remains to make the ogre of Leinster relapse. On his own land this time. A real Everest. The Irish hit hard by dominating Toulouse on Saturday. But La Rochelle also sent a clear message: “Hello, here we are again !” For a volcanic remake of last year’s finale.
Read alsoChampions Cup: La Rochelle find Leinster in the final after their crushing victory against Exeter
Alldritt, the (very) rollercoaster
His duel with Sam Simmonds was salivating. And he did not disappoint, the English international, long (and surprisingly) shunned by Eddie Jones, opened hostilities by scoring his first try in force. But, opposite, the number 8 of the XV of France delivered a colossal match. Omnipresent, powerful and decisive, the third-line center of the Maritimes multiplied the blows of brilliance and the gestures of (high) cl***. Like that perfect gap in the interval to send Seuteni to score (22e). And this test perfectly negotiated after a La Rochelle melee which turned (32e). Match after match, Alldritt ***erts himself as one of the best number 8s on the world circuit. Very hard to stop now. A good omen before the next World Cup in France. One of the strong men of the pack of the XV of France, always in the advance, but who also knows how to play around him. Its wide technical palette impresses.
The rise of a perfectly oiled collective
The demanding Ronan O’Gara has built an impressive team. Who has just chained a ninth consecutive victory, all competitions combined, since the beginning of February. In front, it’s very, very heavy with big guys like Atonio, Bourgarit, Skelton or Alldritt who have fun making small wood of their opponents. A display of brute force reminiscent of the RC Toulon of the great hours (titled between 2013 and 2015) with Botha, Williams, Masoe and S. Armitage. The La Rochelle hinge was also sparkling this Sunday with an imperial Kerr-Barlow and a Hastoy with fiery legs and impeccable choices. Some will say that they play in an armchair behind a pack of such tonnage. Except that behind, Stade Rochelais is also over-armed with the Seuteni, Dulin, Rhule and Leyds. And to think that this Sunday the puncher Danty was missing, hit in the ribs. All these beautiful people will have to raise their level further in the final against Leinster. But O’Gara knows, like no other, how to galvanize his troops.
A yellow and black tide in Bordeaux
“Here, here, it’s La Rochelle !” It’s a real yellow and black tide that swept over Bordeaux this Sunday. Limited to Marcel-Deflandre who can only receive “only” 16,000 people and who has sold out, La Rochelle supporters stormed the Matmat Atlantique in Bordeaux for this semi-final, which can hold 42,000 people. We could see a few pink spots, here and there, formed by Exeter supporters, but otherwise the Matmut was totally yellow! And the boiling public from La Rochelle and Charente-Maritime lived up to the event. Pushing, cheering and yelling behind his players. Even allowing himself to sing the Marseillaise from the 47e minute when the already heavy score was 33-7. Strangely (or proof of fair play), they only chanted the traditional “We are final, we are final” that at the 77e minute… Present en m***e last year at the Vélodrome de Marseille for the historic first coronation, the La Rochelle fans will begin to organize themselves to reach Dublin on May 20. With the mad hope of a resounding double.
The Chiefs were hardly deluded
After the good start to the match concretized by the test of Sam Simmonds (5th), one could think that Exeter – first English team in the last continental four for 3 years – was going to give a hard time to the Maritimes. The English were solid, dynamic and they disrupted the steamroller in La Rochelle. Finally a flash in the pan… The Chiefs, over the first period, quickly dropped their feet and suffered the powerful attacks from La Rochelle. Rhule (8e) had quickly put the two teams on an equal footing, before Stade Rochelais made their physical density and cold offensive efficiency speak for themselves. Never releasing his embrace. Sunday M*** was said at halftime, with the score 26-7. The English, who had come close to corrections against Montpellier in the round of 16 (33-33, 5 tries to 4), then impressed in the quarters by effectively sweeping the Cape Stormers (42-17). There, they did not last the distance…
End of cycle in Exeter
The routes of La Rochelle and Exeter are similar. These two clubs reached the highest level ten years ago, they knew how to increase in power and won titles. Except that the financial crisis which is currently shaking English rugby is causing damage. With the reduction of the salary cap (ceiling of the payroll) in the Premiership next year, the Chiefs, crowned in 2020 against Racing 92 (31-27) in Bristol, will have to slim down their workforce. The transhumance to the Top 14 has already begun. Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams will join Montpellier, perhaps accompanied by Luke Cowan-****ie. Joe Simmonds will join the Section Paloise. As for Jack Nowell, he will wear the colors of Stade Rochelais next season. A glorious page will turn to Exeter, double champion of England in 2017 and 2020. The Chiefs are currently only sixth in the league. They don’t even have that left as last stand. It will be necessary in priority to digest the series of uppercuts which they received in Bordeaux.