Leinster and Toner have no answer to French power
Devin Toner's quest for another European Champions Cup victory with Leinster came unstuck in the heat and pressure of the Stade Marcel-Deflandre when they lost 23-32 to La Rochelle today.
Leinster were swept aside by a powerful La Rochelle side who with their sheer power and physicality dominated the second-half to progress to the final.
Leinster made a bright start to the game forcing La Rochelle on the backfoot as they moved the ball around with purpose and drive. They forced a series of early penalties from the French side who had a player sinbinned for the series of early indiscretions.
Leinster out-half Ross Byrne was unable to score with an early shot at the posts but they were rewarded soon after. Devin Toner was prominent in those early stages claiming the ball from a number of Leinster line-outs and the Leo Cullen's side eventually made the breakthrough after nine minutes when Tadhg Furlong powered over for a try, converted by Byrne.
The opening half continued to ebb and flow as a fascinating tussle unfolded under the hot sun at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre. Ross Byrne fired over two more penalties for Leinster while La Rochelle's kicker Ihaia West fired the ball between the posts four times to keep his team in contention. At the break Leinster led 13-12.
Whatever La Rochelle coach Ronan O'Gara said to his troops at the break appeared to have a desired effect because they dominated the opening stages of the second-half. West tagged on three points for his side while Byrne helped Leinster to cling on when he also scored from a penalty but the signs were ominous for the Blues.
La Rochelle deservedly went 16-18 in front when West was successful from a penalty kick. He also had a monster of an effort from a penalty from half-way rebound off the post.
Leinster were penalised a number of times for not releasing the ball but La Rochelle, who upped the pressure from their powerful front five, particularly Will Skelton, kept the pressure on and Gregory Alldritt went over for a try, converted by West. Suddenly Leinster trailed 16-25 after 69 minutes.
In the closing stages the 22-stone Skelton drove through to get a try and make sure of victory. West converted to put them 32-16 ahead.
Byrne managed to get in for a late Leinster try which he converted himself but there was just too much for them to do and they lost out just as they did last season in the same stage to Saracans.