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Stuart Lancaster wary of La Rochelle’s improved attack

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster believes La Rochelle’s attacking play has improved since they beat Leinster in a Heineken Champions Cup semi-final last year.

Leinster take on La Rochelle at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille this Saturday in the Champions Cup finale, and despite the French club triumphing the last time the two sides met, the Irish province are the strong favourites.

However, there won’t be any complacency among Leinster’s players as they will vividly remember being comfortably beaten by La Rochelle just 12 months ago, and the same goes for the province’s coaches.

In fact, Leinster senior coach Lancaster believes La Rochelle are now a better attacking side than they were last year and revealed that semi-final loss has been a major point of discussion among the squad in the last week or so.

Stuart Lancaster on the threat of La Rochelle.

“Obviously we lost the game. It was in different circumstances, i.e. it was a Covid scenario of no crowd and everything else, so that will all be different. The environment will be different,” Lancaster explained.

“Obviously in France the heat and everything else are all things we’ve talked about. One of the key things we’ve talked about is how good they were last year.

“We had our chances in the first half that we didn’t nail and probably weren’t as accurate at the start of the second half as we needed to be. They got a lead and kept the lead. James Lowe going into the [sin] bin was a big moment.

“They’ve got our full respect for what they’ve achieved for both in that season, the performance in that game, but also what we’ve seen of them this season as well. They’ve evolved their game.

“I think they’re a better attacking team now, defensively they’re incredibly strong with a lot of breakdown threats and a good kicking game as well. So it’s what it should be. It’s two top end teams going at it in the Champions Cup final.”

Injury concerns for both teams.

Tadhg Furlong and James Lowe are in a race against time as they aim to be fit for Saturday, as both picked up injuries in the semi-final win against Toulouse.

Ciarán Frawley is also a doubt for the final, as he suffered a facial injury against Munster at the weekend, although Jordan Larmour and Ronan Kelleher have both fully recovered from their injuries.

For La Rochelle, scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow is unlikely to play in the final due to a broken hand, although Ronan O’Gara hopes that a Mycro Sportsgear glove used in hurling could allow him to play.

Giant lock Will Skelton made his return from injury at the weekend, although flanker Victor Vito’s participation is in doubt after he suffered a minor ankle injury.

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