In a repeat of the 2022 final, rugby royalty goes head-to-head at the Aviva Stadium as Leinster look to avenge last year’s defeat to La Rochelle (4:45pm).
Having been dramatically dumped out of the URC last weekend by Munster’s muscle and Jack Crowley’s cinematic late, match winning drop goal, Leo Cullen reinstates Leinster’s international stars.
From that semi-final seven days ago, only three start again today- Robbie Henshaw at inside centre, Jimmy O’Brien on the wing and Jack Conan at number 8.
But of the side which swatted Toulouse aside three weeks ago, to reach this final, it is the same formidable forwards who start. Whilst James Lowe has made a timely return from injury to start as has Garry Ringrose, partnering Henshaw in the midfield.
To the bench, there is surreal strength in depth. Replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher is returns from the treatment table whilst Ciaran Frawley and Charlie Ngatai- both starters against Munster, take the 22 and 23 shirts respectively.
James Ryan wears the captain’s armband from lock but in a squad rammed with experience, including the age-defying Cian Healy, Leinster possess plenty of leadership on the pitch.
Reigning Champions, thanks to victory in that epic final clash last May, La Rochelle arrive in Dublin having similarly coasted through the competition.
Mirroring Leinster’s almost Ireland-identical fifteen, are the plentiful of established French international players, full-back Brice Dulin amongst them, who start.
As a showpiece, this is an encounter of two groups of the highest quality, evidenced by how close last year’s final was in Marseille.
Leinster led for long parts thanks to seven penalties (six peerlessly converted by Johnny Sexton) but La Rochelle stymied their try-scoring threat, to ultimate reward in the dying seconds as Arthur Retieres’ late score proved to be the heartbreaker for the Dubliners.
It will be fascinating to see if last year’s final or- the other big factor at play here- playing at home has any psychological ramifications either way.
Prior to last Saturday, Leinster had been unbeatable at the Aviva but as their rare defeats show, if they are not far enough ahead on the score board (no matter how dominant) then the back door is always open for the opposition to snatch it.
La Rochelle will want to make history as successive Champions Cup winners whilst Leinster bid to lift the trophy for the first time since 2018.
This is a Titanic match-up and, with Leinster’s hopes of ending a (largely) sublime season with silverware on the line, it’s going to be a classic.