The dust hasn't quite settled following La Rochelle's monumental last gasp 24-21 victory over Leinster in Saturday's Champions Cup final, but the main players in the punditry world have had their initial takes on what happened in Marseille.
Ronan O'Gara, for a second year in a row, masterminded a clutch win over a favoured Leinster side, leaving them still in search for a record equalling fifth Heineken Cup. Despite the presence of Johnny Sexton, who missed last year's game, Leinster lacked a killer instinct, highlighted by their failure to score even a single try.
Writing in The Times, Stephen Jones was his usual self, over-the-top and pining for a reaction, and his words conveyed something of a gleeful tone at the expense of Leinster.
"Ah. The little town of La Rochelle, way out on the west coast," writes Jones. "They took on a team representing about fourth fifths of a rugby nation — and took them to the cleaners, and to all other parts of the high street."It was a match that may have saved the event. Leinster, strutting around as if on a sniffy new planet, boring on about their style (structurally formulaic), were utterly shut down."As if we needed any more reminders of Jones' often ridiculously exaggerated comments, he mentions that "if Leinster had won it would have been the biggest sporting travesty of all time."
"Over the years, that slight frame of his has been an attractive target to opposing teams. Few individuals have been left writhing around like Sexton, but time and again he has bounced up. “Stop Sexton” was the obvious refrain. For the best part of the hour in which he was on the field, La Rochelle were able to do just that, making the Leinster pull-back patterns look a little predictable."
For renowned French publication L'Équipe, Yann Sternis focuses more on the brilliance of La Rochelle rather than the failure of Leinster, and eloquently sums up the emotions on show in Marseille.
"It's not every day that you see a bunch of giants burst into tears. Since Arthur Retière had stretched out his right arm to anchor the ball on an Irish goal line (79th) which seemed impassable during the last ten minutes of the match, the eyes of the Rochelais players as well as those of part of the audience at the Vélodrome, including President Vincent Merling, had suddenly fogged up. All had understood that the history of their club was being written in front of them. And that the formalization of this title was only a matter of time.
"So when Iahia West converted that winning try after letting the seconds tick away until the siren, the Maritimes let it all go. The South stand and its yellow flags danced, letting out a deaf clamor. Romain Sazy could not contain his emotion, crying hot tears, while the young Matthias Haddad and Thomas Berjon, largely up to the challenge on Saturday, alternately ran, shouted, before falling into the arms of each teammate passing in front of them. This victory was well worth such a demonstration of emotions.
"But how hard it was to snatch this title. Leinster, with its meticulous organization and its armada of internationals, gave the impression for a long time yesterday that it was ready to embroider a fifth star on its jersey. To derail the Irish machine, Ronan O'Gara's men fought a battle of terrible intensity, especially in front, and managed to deprive his opponent of the ball, who did not score a single try. Above all, they mentally resisted a badly embarked situation. Even trailing 18-10 at the start of the second half, the Rochelais did not panic, patiently building their victory, refusing to see the ghosts of their two defeats against Toulouse in the European Cup final and then Top 14 last year last."
In the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley focuses on La Rochelle coach Ronan O'Gara, and the fine margins which determine a team's legacy.
"As with Leinster, so the margins were wafer thin for Ronan O’Gara and La Rochelle. As the man himself noted afterwards, had his team come up inches short that would have amounted to three final defeats in two seasons and they would have been deemed “bottlers”. Instead his well-primed and voracious team have delivered the club’s first major trophy and surely the most significant by any Irish coach abroad ever.
"Fair play to him and them. Beaten finalists who return a year later are always dangerous beasts, and it’s doubtful if La Rochelle would have summoned the irresistible momentum for Retiere’s try had it not been for the experience of losing two finals last season."
Both Cian Tracey and Brendan Fanning lament the lack of killer instinct from Leinster and their inability to seize the moment when eight points up in the second half, while writing for the Irish Independent.
"That a Leinster team, who had scored 47 tries in their seven games en route to the final, failed to score a try when it mattered most will hurt. That the try count read 3-0 will hurt even more," writes Tracey.
"As much as that was down to La Rochelle’s brilliance, Ronan O’Gara’s men didn’t exactly throw anything at Leinster that they wouldn’t have prepared for, yet for the second year running, they couldn’t find a way to get the job done."
Fanning concurs and states that, "they never got the kind of sustained dominance they use to break teams. So La Rochelle finished the day centre stage, taking the applause. Leinster are still in the waiting room."