|Heineken Champions Cup: La Rochelle v Leinster|
|La Rochelle (12) 32|
|Tries: Alldritt, Skelton Cons: West 2 Pens: West 5 Drop-goal: West|
|Leinster (13) 23|
|Tries: Furlong, R Byrne Cons: R Byrne 2 Pens: R Byrne 3|
La Rochelle reached their first Champions Cup final by grinding down four-time winners Leinster in an impressive 32-23 semi-final victory.
Gregory Alldritt and Will Skelton scored tries in the final 15 minutes as head coach Ronan O'Gara got one over on his old provincial rivals.
Tries from Tadhg Furlong and Ross Byrne bookended Leinster's day, but could not salvage a disjointed performance.
La Rochelle will face Toulouse in an all-French Twickenham final on 22 May.
The final will see the Top 14's top two meet as Toulouse seek to become the first side to win the competition five times, while La Rochelle are out for a first European trophy in their history.
With O'Gara and former Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes leading the charge, La Rochelle lived up to their billing as a powerful and inventive outfit as they gradually broke Leinster down before the two late breakthroughs ensured they got the job done.
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Leinster start quick but fizzle out
The opening 10 minutes would prove to be the outlier in an otherwise frustrated Leinster attacking display, as the visitors started brightly to immediately surge into opposition territory.
In their first ever Champions Cup semi-final, La Rochelle's nerves were evident in the opening exchanges as Dillyn Leyds first failed to gather Ross Byrne's kick-off, as he did three times in the first half, before the hosts conceded five penalties inside eight minutes with referee Matthew Carley sending Wiaan Liebenberg to the sin-bin.
By contrast, Leinster were rewarded for their early poise with the first try as Furlong crashed over from close range.
It was a concerning and error-strewn start for La Rochelle but after conceding the try they settled into the contest, with Ihaia West knocking over a penalty and a drop-goal to ensure Liebenberg would return to the fray with his side just one point down.
Defence got the better of attack for much of the half with both sides struggling to get beyond the gainline, but La Rochelle looked the more dangerous of the two with the varied kicking of West and Brice Dulin asking questions of Leinster.
The closest they came to a first-half try was when Victor Vito collected West's crossfield chip but was well stopped just inches before the line as the visitors took a one-point lead into the break.
At no point in the contest did La Rochelle cut loose and run riot, it was a methodical and brilliantly executed gameplan that saw them totally stifle Leinster going forward and break them down in defence.
West finished the game with 22 points, and kicked his side into their first lead of the day shortly after the restart.
Leinster were finding things immensely frustrating with gaps beginning to appear as they soaked up waves of La Rochelle pressure, with James Lowe being sent to the sin-bin after 55 minutes for not rolling away having made an excellent initial defensive read.
The hosts were impressive but not flawless, and were guilty of literally throwing away attacking platforms at the line-out.
To their credit they refused to get frustrated by the occasional inaccuracy, and eventually found the breakthrough as an Alldritt pick-and-go created daylight on the scoreboard.
Skelton's try five minutes from time sealed the win, as the outstanding lock broke off from a maul to thunder over and create a gap Leinster could not claw back, despite Ross Byrne's late consolation try.
La Rochelle: Dulin; Leyds, Doumayrou, Botia, Rhule; West, Kerr-Barlow; Wardi, Bourgarit, Atonio, Sazy (capt), Skelton, Alldritt, Liebenberg, Vito.
Replacements: Bosch, Priso, Joly, Lavault, Gourdon, Retiere, Plisson, Aguillon.
Leinster: Keenan; Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; R Byrne, McGrath (capt); Healy, R Kelleher, Furlong, Toner, Ryan, Ruddock, Van der Flier, Conan.
Replacements: Tracy, E Byrne, Porter, Fardy, Baird, Osborne, Frawley, O'Loughlin.
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