Leinster run out of steam as Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle reach Champions Cup final
LA ROCHELLE 32-23 LEINSTER
Leinster went into half-time leading by a point but never really featured in the second half and were crushed by La Rochelle.
There will be no fifth star above the Leinster crest, but Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle are now hunting their first as they set up a final date against Toulouse, at Twickenham, in three weeks' time.
Leinster got off to a flyer at Stade Marcel Deflandre as their forwards put the hosts under immense pressure and forced referee Matthew Carley into sending flanker Wian Liebenberg to the sin-bin.
The French side were struggling to keep the blue wave back - conceding five penalties in seven minutes - and it was Tadhfg Furlong that broke the dam with a powerful drive. Ross Byrne, who had missed an early penalty, popped over the simple conversion.
With Jono Gibbes and Ronan O'Gara looking on from the stands, La Rochelle finally started to motor and managed the rest of that sin-bin perfectly, with Ihaia West pinging over two penalties, to make it 7-6.
Leinster then responded with two penalties of their own, to go 13-6 ahead before La Rochelle took advantage of James Ryan getting isolated on two carries to press up-field. On both occasions, they were rewarded with penalties that West slotted over. HALF-TIME: La Rochelle 12-13 Leinster
The home side continued the second half as they ended the first - putting the squeeze on a Leinster side that looked to be flagging.
West put his side ahead, for the first time, on 46 minutes and again on 56 after Byrne had wrested the lead back with a penalty of his own. With James Lowe in the sin-bin for some cynical defending, West missed a chance to extend his side's lead when his penalty from halfway hit the post.
La Rochelle knew momentum was with them and took full advantage of Lowe being on the sideline as they marched into the Leinster 22. Josh van der Flier denied them a try with a last-ditch tackle but Gregor Alldritt would not be denied, moments later. West's conversion made it 25-16 with 15 minutes to play.
Lowe came back on for the final stages but his poor clearing kick put his side in trouble and, when another penalty was conceded, the home side opted to kick for the corner instead of stretching their lead.
That call paid off when their maul had Leinster in trouble and the impressive Will Skelton powered over to put the game beyond any and all doubt. Ross Byrne got a consolation try with two and a half minutes to go but it was far from enough on a disappointing afternoon for the Blues.
Our Man of the Match: Will Skelton (La Rochelle)