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The breakdown: What Leinster can expect from ROG's La Rochelle

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

21:06 28 Apr 2021


As Leinster prepare to play La Rochelle this weekend, Wednesday Night Rugby looked at what Leo Cullen and co. can expect.

Former Leinster man Andy Dunne gave us an insight into the 'education' that Ronan O'Gara received from his time with Crusaders, where O'Gara and others commented on the Kiwis' tendency towards simplicity.

Dunne recounted what O'Gara, Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones said about their travels in New Zealand.

Leinster - La Rochelle

"All three of them seemed to say very similar things about their experience: it was almost embarrassingly simple compared to how the northern hemisphere overcomplicates things. It was all about the improvement of players' skills and the empowerment of players to make decisions off-the-cuff.

"That becomes a virtuous circle: the more you practice your skills, the more likely you are to make good decisions on the hoof, the more likely that risky plays will come off.

"The Crusaders have won a lot of Super Rugby titles by playing a similar style to La Rochelle. They are not big on possession, they are big on soaking up teams in defence and then being explosive and slicing you open in a couple of plays.

"ROG has mirrored that, and Jerry Flannery over at Harlequins is playing a very similar style as well. It is economic; you don't use up a lot of energy on the ball, you use up a lot of energy in defence, you turn it over, and you are explosive against broken field.

"When you think of that type of play that La Rochelle play, and then you add in this type of giants like Will Skelton and [Uini] Atonio, what they can bring to the scrum...

"Their set-piece is really solid, and their starter plays are a lot to do with Ronan's experience and imagination, and willingness to look at first phase play as a means to scoring, as opposed to setting up second-phase play.

"There is a huge difference in attitude there."

'Bit of both'

Dunne drew contrast with elite football, in that possession in rugby is physically-draining, whereas in football it saves legs.

"That is not what La Rochelle like. They like short, explosive bursts where they make a line-break and they convert, happy without the ball for a while where they can get a breather.

"If you look at the likes of Will Skelton: 6ft8 and 22 stone. He does not what the ball in play for 41 minutes, I can tell you that.

"He has done some serious damage - he played a fairly magnificent Heineken Cup final in 2018.  He was energetic, impossible to stop with one man - so you're down to the likes of two of the back row to soak up a tackle.

"Then they have got the likes of Greg Alldritt, Kevin Gourdon, and Victor Vito who are so dynamic and skilful; similar to the likes of Jack Conan.

"So they have got a bit of both going on - a big, bruising front five and a lot of athleticism in the back row."

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