Leinster can use La Rochelle heartache to earn fifth Champions Cup star

Jacques Nienaber's fingerprints were evident on Leinster's win against La Rochelle during the pool stages
©Steve Haag Sports

Clermont Auvergne have long been considered the bridesmaids of the European Champions Cup, but Leinster are now challenging them for that tag unless they can claim their fifth title this season.

Leo Cullen’s men have lost the last two finals against La Rochelle - who they face in the last eight of the competition on Saturday - and while Clermont never won a title in their golden period between 2013 and 2017, Leinster’s Josh van der Flier believes a similar drought won’t happen to his side.

He said: “I don’t think there is any panic or feeling that it is now or never. We take each challenge as it comes and we’ve certainly got a big challenge this week. That is our mindset.

“It is what we all dream of. Certainly, in this group, being able to play for Leinster and win silverware, it is obviously the goal and I suppose we have come short of that the last couple of seasons, so it is obviously high up on the priorities list.

“You have to go and attack it. You start the knockouts with the same chance as everyone else has. You have to go and earn it.

“Everyone has a huge desire to be successful with this team, and there is definitely a big drive to put ourselves in a position to win silverware.”

And with Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle the next obstacle on their way to their fifth star, the task does not get any easier.

But the 2022 World Player of the Year is excited by the daunting challenge presented by the reigning champions of Europe.

He said: “It is a game we know we will need to be at our very best for because they are a world-class side.

“In Europe, we have lost to them a couple of times in the last few years. They have obviously been a big challenge to play against.

“We have a lot of respect for La Rochelle. They’re a brilliant side, they are really well coached, and have some really good individual players. It will be down to the small margins, I reckon.”

However, the men in blue can take confidence from their 16-9 victory away to the French side during this campaign's pool stages, a game they were expected to lose.

This was the second fixture for Jacques Nienaber as Leinster’s senior coach and the two-time World Cup winner has since been implementing his tactical system in Dublin.

Nienaber said: “I think we are still growing, and we will still continue doing that.

“This group that we are working with that has been away at the Six Nations, this would probably be week number seven I will be involved with them and they are growing.

“We are where we should be with this group, thinking of going into this business end of the season, but we will get better as we go on as we get more contact time with them.”

But as the side continues to grow, they face an experienced outfit in La Rochelle looking to win their third consecutive Champions Cup.

And while Nienaber is aware of the ability of Les Jaune et Noir, it makes this a Herculean challenge.

He said: “They have got a bunch of internationally experienced players that understand how to handle pressure and how to perform under pressure.

“I think if you look at the type of game they play, they play a game that gets results in knockout stages, and that is why, if you look at the history, they have been so successful in Europe.

“I see a team that understands their DNA and knows what they are all about, and that DNA is the DNA that gets them results in knockout.”

In what has seemingly become a Sisyphean challenge for Leinster in their quest to win their fifth Champions Cup, the Irish side will believe they can overcome La Rochelle this weekend at the Aviva Stadium.


European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table