La Rochelle has given itself a second chance. In a meeting relocated to the Bollaert-Delelis stadium in Lens because of the Sexion d’Assault concert at Paris La Défense Arena, the Rochelais won against Racing 92 (20-13) in the semi-finals of the European Cup, Sunday May 15.
At the end of a rough and chopped match, they validated their ticket for a second consecutive European final. They will face, Saturday May 28 at the Vélodrome stadium in Marseille, the Irish of Leinster, winners Saturday of the Toulouse stadium (40-17).
The score was already frozen in favor of the Maritimes when Ihaia West sealed the meeting at the siren. With a corner try scored in an acrobatic way, the opener definitively validated the qualification of his team for what will be his fourth final in three years, national and European competitions combined.
The previous three ended in defeats: in the European Challenge in 2019 (36-16) against Clermont, in the European Cup then in the Top 14 in 2021, against Stade Toulouse (22-17 then 18-8). La Rochelle will have a new opportunity to add a prestigious line to its list.
“We are specialists in winning semis, now we have to win finals,” smiled Roche center Jérémy Sinzelle on BeIN Sports after the match on Sunday. “We are very happy, also welcomed captain Grégory Alldritt at the microphone of France 2. We knew it would be hard, it was physical until the end. »
Racing too undisciplined
Laborious above all, so many inaccuracies and penalties were chained throughout an afternoon when rugby did not show its best face to promote itself in Hauts-de-France. In this game, the Parisians were by far the best, conceding no less than 19 penalties over the whole meeting (against 12 for La Rochelle).
“The disappointment is immense. We were too undisciplined, admitted the international center of Racing 92, Gaël Fickou. We have a lot of regrets, we deserved better. »
The clumsiness of Ihaia West
After quickly taking control thanks to the talent of Virimi Vakatawa, author of the first try (10-0, 28th), Racing 92 kept the advantage for a long time thanks to the chronic clumsiness of opposing scorer Ihaia West.
As in the final of the Top 14 last season, the New Zealander showed glaring shortcomings in his kicking game. He left eight points on the way by missing two easy penalties (11th and 46th) and completely unscrewing the transformation on his team’s first try, signed Grégory Alldritt just before halftime (10-8, 40th).
But when they returned from the locker room, the indiscipline of Laurent Travers’ men paid dearly. In quick succession, Camille Chat (52nd) and Cedate Gomes Sa (53rd) were sanctioned with a yellow card, leaving their partners at thirteen against fifteen. To make matters worse, La Rochelle was credited with a penalty try on the fault of the second named, passing ahead in the score for the first time in the match (13-15, 53rd).
By not conceding any points in numerical inferiority, Racing 92 left itself reason to hope. “When you have chances, you have to put them to the bottom, we didn’t know how to do it. We lost too many balloons, ”analyzed Maxime Machenaud.
Opportunities missed by Racing
At the end of the game, Racing 92 missed the opportunities to come back in front, like Nolann Le Garrec. The scrum half, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday, missed two penalties after the hour mark (60th and 62nd). “We had chances but we didn’t play the shots well”, regretted Gaël Fickou.
Racing (4th in the Top 14) will have to refocus on the championship to hope to grab a title since the European Cup once again escapes it after its three lost finals (2016, 2018, 2020).
For La Rochelle, in a bad position to qualify for the final phase of the Top 14 (7th), the opportunity will be too good at the Vélodrome stadium. “We have a championship match between the two,” said Grégory Alldritt. But we will have this Leinster match in the back of our minds. It’s a team that has the ball, you’re going to have to be so precise.” Much more than against Racing 92 in any case, but the essential is acquired for the players of Ronan O’Gara.