Johnny Sexton has spoken in recent weeks of the learning experiences from recent Champions Cup heartbreak. He, along with his Leinster teammates, has had to deal with the pain of losing out for three straight years in game he would feel they should have won.
Leinster have undoubtedly reached a higher level this season, and the losses in recent years have certainly helped them improve, as Sexton has alluded to.
I think it’s the experiences, both positive and negative. So we have the Saracens final to look back on. But we’ve been a champion team before with largely the same group, there hasn’t been a lot of change over the years. So we’re going to draw on all our experiences and try and go one step further.”
The Leinster and Ireland captain is now 37 years-old, and just over a year away from retirement, when he will finish his remarkable career after the 2023 World Cup.
Despite his experience and greatness, in an interview with Brian O'Driscoll, he explains that the pre-game 'nerves' he experienced before his first final in 2009 are still the same.
It’s very similar, the nerves are there already. The fact that we lost the last one, you can't help but think what we could have done better.
"We probably didn’t get the build up right, we had three weeks without a game and we’ve learned our lesson from that.
"We were so fit running around but when it came to the Saracens game the contacts killed us."
Leinster vs Toulouse
As fans and pundits we constantly have discussions around 'best ever' arguments, and it is comforting to know these thoughts are also in the minds of players.
Sexton talks of the drive for a fifth European crown, which would put them on par with Toulouse, and once again reignite the debate of which club is the best of all time.
"The desire to get to five is huge. We’ve spoken about it from day one with Stuart Lancaster," said Sexton.
"The day Stuart came in and talked about five we all looked each other and said ‘has he seen us play lately?’
"We had just lost to Connacht in the Pro14 final and I’d say we were at an all-time low at the start of the next season.
"The job him and Leo [Cullen] have done over the last few years has been great, to get to another final and to be going for five in a row in the United Rugby Championship is a testament to them.
"It’s an amazing environment to be a part of.
"When you’re in the latter stages of your career, if things weren’t as enjoyable and the people weren’t as good, I’d walk away 100 per cent but it’s too good!
"They’re all so competitive and ambitious, I’d say I love these lads now I love as much as the generation before."
"I always had this dream after the last World Cup to get to another one because I feel like we’ve got unfinished business," he said.
"But the body still feels good, so never say never! We’ll take it season by season."
"If we win this weekend it will be up their with the team that went back-to-back. You’ve got to be a special team to go back-to-back, and we won three in four years, so I wouldn’t put us in that bracket yet.
"If we have the dream season: win in Europe and put the fifth star on the jersey and we went five in a row in the URC then you have to at least be talked about in that bracket.
"Getting that fifth star will at least put us in that conversation!"
Sexton vs O'Gara
There is also the Sexton vs O'Gara narrative heading into today's game, a story of rivalry and friendship which has been told time and again.
La Rochelle had never reached a final before and now they’re on for three in a row, which is a phenomenal achievement.
"ROG has done a fantastic job there, but he’s not playing… so I don’t know why it’s being made me against him – but I’m sure something will be made of it.
"I still stay in contact with him, not as much as we used to because he’s so busy.
"He’s been to three clubs now as a coach and he’s always been successful."