The Champions Cup final between La Rochelle and Leinster ended with many weighty questions in the air, especially after reports of an altercation in the tunnel at half-time. An official inquiry has already been launched, but the impact of the incident on the field could be even more significant in the medium term.
Not only was this one of the most captivating spectacles of modern rugby imaginable, but the recent celebrations unfolding on the Atlantic coast also felt natural to wonder how any side could have withstood the giant yellow sledgehammer from the 17th. After 12 minutes, it was down to 0 down and an eventual 27-26 come-from-behind win for Ogarra’s strong side to clinch their second consecutive Champions Cup title.
Leinster dominated the first quarter but were still beaten by one of the most fearsome European sides to date. It’s not just the natural weirdos in the team like Will Skelton, Jonathan Danti, Winni Atonio, and Levani Botia, or the relentless brilliance of French number eight Gregory Aldritt and the steel-bladed run of center UJ Ceuteni. Equally vital is the competitive edge and tactical knowledge Ogara instilled, coupled with the executive empathy that has established the 46-year-old as one of the brightest coaches of his generation.
All qualitatively two or three notches above the average premiership contest, Leinster’s recent disappointment needs to be seen in that relative context. Suddenly, the vaunted Leinster run has failed to lift a single trophy in two seasons and has only lifted one European title since 2011.
There are just too many big-game close losses for anyone to feel comfortable with, especially with Ogara in the rest of the coaching box. After the newsletter promotion, it is also important to consider personality, and whether it would have been different if Johnny Sexton had been the right choice. Leinster, one point behind with five minutes remaining, had already misjudged a few kicks and refused a long-range penalty.
The bloodshed that saw Michael Araratoa receive a red card in the 78th minute for his shoulder to Colombes’ head was further evidence of Leinster’s faltering composure. And again, Sexton, now 37, will be the last to retire. This year anyway.
It may be another day or two before further official information is released, so others will ponder how best to stop the French oval giant from trampling over everything. What is alarming for the rest of the world is that there are few clear signs of an antidote.