They did it ! La Rochelle players managed to win the European Rugby Cup on Saturday in Marseille, beating the Irish from Leinster 24-21. This is the first European title for La Rochelle, which succeeds Toulouse, winner last year. Against who ? Against La Rochelle. This second consecutive final will therefore have been good for the Maritimes. And if the victory took a long time to take shape, it is undoubtedly even more beautiful.

After three defeats in the final, La Rochelle went for the first title in its history. Beaten in the European Challenge by Clermont (36-16) in 2019 then by Toulouse in the Top 14 (18-8) and in the European Cup (22-17) last season, the Maritimes have finally shattered the glass ceiling. A real feat against one of the most successful teams in the competition. When Captain Grégory Alldritt raised the cup in the Marseille sky, he no doubt had a thought for all these defeats, now forgotten.

“We learned that reaching the final is not an end (smile). Last year, it was almost a surprise to reach the final at Twickenham. We did not expect it, it was wonderful. Now that’s no longer a surprise. Last year, something was taken from us, ”admitted the third international line before this fifth Franco-Irish final.

“I still have that image of Toulouse lifting the cup in front of us. That has really been our motivation all season. We climbed the ranks and we all found ourselves more motivated than ever, ”he continued, assuring that he did not want to taste defeat again. It’s done: Stade Rochelais is now European champion. It is the 13th titled club in European rugby’s most prestigious club competition.

Ronan O’Gara’s men also prevent Cian Healy and Jonathan Sexton from becoming the most successful European Cup players. The two Irish internationals will have to wait another year to sew a fifth star, like the Toulouse team, on their jersey.

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O’Gara, he played a terrible trick on his compatriots: the former opener of Munster, already best director (1365 pts in 110 matches) of a competition he won in 2006 and 2008 as an opener from Munster, joins Toulouse coach Ugo Mola (1996 and 2021) and his Leinster counterpart Leo Cullen (2009, 2011, 2012, 2018), the only men sacred as a player and as a coach.

In a Vélodrome committed to its cause, the club with the caravel also becomes the fourth French formation to settle on the roof of Europe after Toulouse (1996, 2003, 2005, 2010, 2021) obviously but also Toulon (2013, 2014, 2015) and Brive (1997). This time, the duel between the ambitious with long teeth and the insatiable ogre turned to the advantage of the French, with a try, one minute from the end of the substitute Arthur Retière.

Because the Rochelais, courageous, stood up to the Irish steamroller, who had nevertheless knocked out the leader of the Top 14 Montpellier (89-7) then the holder Toulouse (40-17) before. Despite their indiscipline (13 penalties including four for Dany Priso alone), they even did better than resist, the Dublin franchise only responding to the tests of Raymond Rhule (10th), Pierre Bourgarit (61st) and Retière (79th) only by the foot of Sexton and Byrne.

And if Les Rocheais hold their star, they owe it to their selflessness and the work of their forwards. What a long way to get there. Still in Pro D2 in 2014, the La Rochelle club rose through the ranks, little by little, until it became a cador both nationally and on the continental scene. Here he is installed at the table of the big ones. The King of Europe will now have to confirm. Fourth in the Top 14, La Rochelle will have to win in Lyon on the 26th and last day, in a week, to validate its ticket for the final phase. But, since Saturday, impossible is not Rochelais.