Leinster co-captain Garry Ringrose discusses heading to La Rochelle this weekend after the French side beat his outfit in the last two Champions Cup finals.
It must be difficult, putting in the hard years in some of Europe’s most hostile stadiums to reach the knockout stages of a competition, only to find that every match from that moment up until and including the final will be in the same stadium a couple of miles down the road from your home – and then you still lose the deciding match.
But that’s exactly what happened last season to four-time Champions Cup winners Leinster, who blew a 17-0 lead against La Rochelle to lose to their French opposition in a European final for the second consecutive season. Worse? The mastermind behind the victors from the Atlantic coast was long-term Leinster rival and Ireland great Ronan O’Gara.
And to top it all off, Leinster, now three-time runners-up, open their campaign this weekend against who? La Rochelle, of course.
It’s not revenge
“It’s not revenge, it’s just the nature of the beast,” Leinster co-captain and Ireland stalwart Garry Ringrose says. “There’s no easy games, but it is a massive game away there. We know how hard it is to win in La Rochelle and then six days later we have Sale, who are an incredibly strong team.
“Games fall on fine margins so we’ll give it our best crack. I don’t think their results in the Top14 so far would truly reflect where they are – they have a lot of guys coming back into the group, [and] I’m sure it plays a big part – so we’re expecting to face them at their very best. And from experience, we know we’ll need to be at our very best to give us a chance.”
Ringrose is right. La Rochelle are struggling domestically – ninth out of 14 in the French first division – but tend to show up for their Champions Cup battles, having made a fortress of their hostile home, the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
But it is a crucial period for Leinster, too, who last year fielded a weaker side in their domestic semi-final against Munster to target European glory but still came away with nothing. They are in the midst of a run of eight matches which includes four Champions Cup ties and four battles against fellow Irish sides.
Leinster on the march
Chasing Toulouse’s record of five Champions Cup titles, the Irish province have recruited Jacques Nienaber, the South African who masterminded the Springboks’ back-to-back World Cup successes, to aid them in that quest.
“It’s a brilliant run. There’s no let up at all,” Leinster centre Ringrose adds. “That’s what you want to do, challenge yourself, and there’s no dipping your toe into it or trying to figure it out. We’ve got to go all-in from the start.
“It’s Europe, it’s round one, it’s straight into it – every point matters. A win would be huge for us but we have Sale six days later, so if we were lucky enough to win, that would be pretty quickly nullified if we were to lose the following week. And equally if we lose then it puts work on the following week again to try and win.
“No matter who you’re playing, you respect them fully, even when there might be a perception outside that it might be expected to go one way. We give them full respect and prepare as best we can.
“We don’t need any reminder coming against La Rochelle, and we don’t look into any results at the moment. They are a top quality side. We’ll have to be our best.”