Plenty To Learn From Leinster’s Defeat For SA URC Sides


South African teams will have learnt a lot from watching French powerhouse La Rochelle beat Leinster in an epic European Champions’ Cup final on Saturday, not the least that the Vodacom United Rugby Championship favourites are not invincible.

La Rochelle’s win will have stunned Leinster’s faithful, and much of European rugby, but it also opened a door to other teams to know that while Leinster is incredibly strong, there are cracks that can be exploited.

Firstly, the one thing all teams know is clear is that to get to the URC title you will have to beat Leinster at some point. Four-time consecutive PRO14 champions and overall log leaders in the first edition of URC make them clear favourites.

But what La Rochelle showed on Saturday is that Leinster, for all their success and impressive systems throughout, is not unbeatable.
South African coaches, in particular, will have taken notice of that, and not least Danny Wilson from Glasgow Warriors, whose side will face Leinster in Saturday’s quarterfinal.

The Warriors will - like all other teams in the competition, be wary of a Leinster backlash, but they will also take note of how La Rochelle outscored Leinster three tries to nil, were dominant in the setpieces and made the side with the fastest ruck reload in the competition look as if they were slow off the mark at times.

The La Rochelle blueprint for victory may have come through courage and determination, but it showed a bunch of teams in the URC that Leinster can be beaten if you can muster the will and determination to play the right game against them.

That may be easier said than done and there is no doubt that Leinster is hurting in coming so close to claiming a fifth European star but failing near the end.

And just how much hurt will be turned into emotion this weekend against Glasgow waits to be seen, and just how much of a backlash there is will also be determined.

Leinster will want now, more than ever, to claim the inaugural URC trophy and will know that, by finishing top of the log, they will play at home in their famed Aviva Stadium where they are very, very hard to beat on any given day.

And the fact that Ronan O’Gara - a former Munster and Ireland legend - ruined their dream of that fifth star and now boasts two wins against them (La Rochelle beat Leinster in the semifinal last year), will make it even more hurtful when they regather this week to shift their attention to the URC.

Their coach Leo Cullen described the loss as “sickening” and it is clear the hurt will be channelled into their preparations this coming week.
"It has not really hit home," said Cullen after the game. “We are licking our wounds. It came down to fine margins and a couple of defensive sets.

"But there is probably a story before that as well in how we got into that situation.

"In the last 15 minutes, we could have been better. It is a sickener, but credit to La Rochelle."

Cullen will know that he has used 60 players this season for Leinster and has used them well. But it will be the loss of impact from the bench that will have hit the hardest. There will be a moment where he wonders if a more battle-hardened side that could have toured South Africa may have been more equipped for the French team they faced?

Either way, these questions will linger, especially in a game of fine margins.

"You can't fault the effort. There are bits in the game that we don't quite execute at stages. Different parts of our game that puts us under undue pressure, but that's what you're expecting with this kind of game anyway, it's high stakes and high pressure against a French team, away in France,” Cullen said.

"We'd love to have a crack at it again, but you don't get a second chance in finals, do you?" he added.

The same goes for playoff matches. The South African teams know this is as real as it gets and there are no second chances.
They also know that if a side like Leinster struggles in Europe after dominating the URC, they will need to up their game significantly before entering Europe next season.

And they will know that whoever gets through this weekend’s playoffs will need to face Leinster at some point.

And like La Rochelle find a way of making Leinster look ordinary. That will be no easy task.

But as the French side showed, it can be done.