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Tadhg Furlong’s verdict as Leinster are stunned by La Rochelle in Dublin thriller

Thrilling start for Leinster unpicked by Ronan O’Gara’s comeback kings

La Rochelle's Thomas Lavault celebrates with the trophy after the Heineken Champions Cup final match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Picture date: Saturday May 20, 2023. PA Photo. See PA Story RUGBYU Leinster. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.© PA

Sports desk

TADHG Furlong admitted his Leinster side were left shell-shocked as Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle staged a stunning 27-26 comeback win in the Champions Cup at the Aviva Stadium last night.

Leinster ran in three tries inside a sensational opening 12 minutes to leave the reigning champions reeling in one of the great halves of European rugby. Yet La Rochelle to complete a sensational comeback and leave the Dublin crowd stunned.

"We are gutted, we put a lot into it," admitted Leinster prop Furlong.

"I thought we started very well but we lost our way a bit, third final in a row we have lost.

"They hung in there and really put the squeeze on in the second half and we didn't quite match it.

"It hurts, it really hurts. I am so disappointed for the fans."

Targeting a record-equalling fifth European title, Leinster ran in three tries inside the opening 12 minutes to leave the holders reeling in one of the great halves of European rugby.

Dan Sheehan crossed twice and Jimmy O’Brien also touched down in a spellbinding opening quarter, but when the second half arrived Leinster had clearly punched themselves out.

The second wind arrived too late, coming in response to Georges Henri Colombe’s match-winning 72nd-minute try, and it ended when Michael Ala’alatoa was sent off for a dangerous clear out.

The rematch of last year’s showpiece produced the fastest ever try scored in a final when Sheehan went charging over after 40 seconds and O’Brien was the next to score.

Dejected Leinster players, from left, Jason Jenkins, Ross Molony, Cian Healy and Ryan Baird during the Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Both scores bore the hallmarks of meticulous preparation, with Sheehan profiting from the homework done on La Rochelle’s line-out and O’Brien diving over at the end of well-drilled play.

Leinster’s ruck speed was devastating and there were other wins across the field, with James Lowe executing a 50-22 and a turnover on the ground frustrating the Top 14’s second-placed side.

The problems mounted as Tawera Kerr Barlow was shown a yellow card for offside, and soon after a defensive lapse allowed an unmarked Sheehan over for his second try.

Trailing 17-0, La Rochelle hit back when Jonathan Danty used his power to bump off Garry Ringrose and touch down after pressure mounted at a five-metre scrum.

Frenzied defence enabled Leinster to secure a penalty that Ross Byrne sent between the uprights – his second in seven minutes – but the heroics came at the cost of losing captain James Ryan to a failed HIA.

La Rochelle were now a different proposition as they started carrying with menace and offloading to support runners, and having stretched the blue wall to breaking point shortly before the interval, they struck to send Ulupano Seuteni over.

Seuteni opened the second-half with an electric break, and when Antoine Hastoy kicked a penalty Leinster’s lead was down to six points.

The fireworks that had gone before were replaced by an exchange of penalties and the sight of La Rochelle camping in the Irish province’s 22, grinding away in search of the next score.

Leinster’s defensive resolve was admirable but they were running on fumes, their attack no longer functioning, and at times they rode their luck with referee Jaco Peyper.

The yellow tide finally prevailed in the 72nd minute through hard yards from Colombe and the score was compounded by a yellow card for Ronan Kelleher.

Leinster poured forward in the closing stages but their hopes ended when Ala’alatoa received his marching orders, forcing them to mourn a third successive loss in finals.

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