2022 – La Rochelle’s European Cup win highlights the power of French rugby | Champion Cup

IIf there is one lesson to be learned from the rugby season for European clubs, it is the importance of ambition. Just eight years ago, this weekend’s two winning teams, La Rochelle and Lyon, were together in French rugby second division and pressed their noses into the top 14 trophies. Without the incentive to upgrade, they would still look inside from outside.

Together with the Exeter Chiefs, they offer hope to wannabes everywhere and are living proof that rugby’s growth is about more than just jealously protecting the status quo. In France, where city ownership of stadiums is an important factor, the overall commercial pie may be greater, but the trend is becoming more pronounced. French rugby at all levels continues to thrive while the homegrown game in England and Wales struggles to survive a solvent.

La Rochelle also emphasized another fundamental truth: that adversity can make teams and people stronger. This time last year, Ronan O’Gara’s side were a disappointing loser to Toulouse in the main game in Europe and also lost in the final of the Top 14. Now they are some of the best dogs, having wiped out the Leinster’s dream of modern European dominance.

O’Gara and his players undoubtedly deserve a lot of recognition: this was one of the most dramatic chases in the region since Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle at French Connection II. As he later explained to BT Sport’s Craig Doyle (unrelated) O’ Gaara had studied footage of Leicester’s knockout matches at Galway and Leicester and put together an 80-minute strategy that he really thought would work.

“These games have given me enough ammunition to work with,” said O’Gara, after stressing to his team the importance of not overburdening Leinster defensively and playing more aggressively in the last 20 minutes. “They are very strong in Aviva but fortunately this match took place in Marseille. We had many chances to give up the ship, especially after only 18-10 after getting a yellow card, but the teams with the bottle, faith and vision find a way to win. I am proud. Very much for their mental determination. This is the start of something special, I hope.”

After his men kept three clean attempts and repeated their tricks to come back from a half-time deficit, as they did against Leinster in last season’s semi-finals, it’s safe to say O’Jara is a rapidly developing coach. This finding once again confirmed what old teammates like his assistant coach Doncha Ryan have known for a long time. “It all starts with Rog. His work ethic is incredible and I have no doubt that he has the ability to do anything [job] He wants it. “

Joel Slavi shows his joy at the final whistle. Photo: David Davies/PA

Raised as a player in a challenging school in Münster, O’Gara has demonstrated the courage and confidence to travel abroad and educate himself in high performance environments in both hemispheres. “He’s been successful at Racing, Crusaders and now at La Rochelle,” Ryan continues. “No accident happened. If he focuses his mind on something, he will make it happen.” At least his ability has inspired others with similar unwavering faith, especially at a club that had not played rugby for the Champions Cup before 2017. It took O’Gara some time to convince them that they really could compete on two fronts.

“You’re of all different nationalities, you speak Pidgin French and they look at you and say, ‘Why do we believe you, Coach?'” ‘ I say, ‘Stay here with me, we can do it.’ As we went a little further, you could see them thinking, ‘I see what this crazy Irishman is talking about. Maybe we can try both. Leinster winger Josh van der Flier was crowned Europe’s Player of the Year, but when the push came, La Rochelle exhausted their opponents until the decisive attempt, and Arthur Retière scored him as a sniper by just over a minute and still playing for no less than a well-deserved O’Gara.

The impact of the knockout could be significant, and not just for Leinster, whose mantle of indomitable abruptly faded away. Johnny Sexton had many great days in his career and contributed 18 points here, but at almost 37 years old this was a real disappointment that would make anyone live.

Can he really recover and give Ireland the world title? And could O’Jara’s tactical victory be the way to catch some of the world’s best teams by surprise? Watching England manager Eddie Jones won’t be the only one wondering if this muscular scheme can pay off at next year’s Six Nations Championship and the subsequent World Cup.

On the other hand, it is not out of the question for England to take on the superb Skelton on their summer tour of Australia, while the task of stopping the excited French teams in France is getting tougher. Now that Jones quits at the end of next year, can rugby union football sit back and watch a five-star general like O’Jara get snapped up by another major contender? Having taken La Rog-chelle to the top, it will be great to see what exiled mastermind Monster will do next.