Bulls ‘B-team’ bomb as ‘delighted’ Leinster look like Champions Cup favourites

La Rochelle' lock Ultan Dillane attempts to charge down a kick from Leinster scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park. Picture: Paul Faith / AFP

La Rochelle' lock Ultan Dillane attempts to charge down a kick from Leinster scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park. Picture: Paul Faith / AFP

Published Apr 14, 2024


Leinster director of rugby Leo Cullen said he was "delighted" after his side hammered holders La Rochelle 40-13 on Saturday to claim revenge for two Champions Cup final defeats and reach the last four of this season's competition.

The Irish province, who is coached by former Springboks guru Jacques Nienaber, crossed for five tries in Dublin, including two for winger James Lowe, in a dominant display to set up a semi-final, on the weekend of May 3-5, against Northampton who defeated the Bulls 59-22.

Two-time holders La Rochelle beat Leinster in classic finals in 2022 and 2023 but Cullen's four-time winners won earlier in the season in the group stages.

"There was a fair bit of hype around the game," Cullen told RTE.

"Two good teams going hard at it and our guys were delighted to get the win. It's job done and onto the next one," he added.

La Rochelle, coached by former Ireland and Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara, had spent the week training in Cork following last Saturday's last-16 victory at the Stormers.

Leinster, who eased past Leicester to reach the quarter-finals, started youngster Ciaran Frawley at full-back after Hugo Keenan withdrew injured hours before kick-off.

The late change had little impact on Cullen's team as they led 10-0 after 19 minutes as Lowe scored his first try and Ross Byrne added a conversion and a penalty.

Leinster extended their lead to 23-6 with scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park following Lowe over the whitewash. Byrne slotted a conversion and two penalties.

Fly-half Antoine Hastoy kicked two penalties for the visitors, who were a shadow of the side who won at the same ground in last May's final.

O'Gara's side kept slim hopes alive at a packed Lansdowne Road as prop Louis Penverne crashed over and Hastoy converted to make it 23-13 at half-time.

La Rochelle's chances of victory were dashed by the 56th minute as the Irish side's flanker Ryan Baird and hooker Dan Sheehan scored.

Lowe added his second with a quarter of an hour to play as Leinster eased into the next round as the tournament favourites.

'Swing the bat'

Harlequins reached their first Champions Cup semi-final, edging a highly-fancied Bordeaux-Begles 42-41 in a breathtaking game in France.

Both sides scored six tries before France scrum-half Maxime Lucu missed a relatively straightforward late conversion which would have claimed victory for the hosts, who had thrashed three-time winners Saracens in the previous round.

Quins, in their 13th campaign in the tournament, will next play record five-time champions Toulouse or Exeter, who meet in France on Sunday.

"We knew we had to dig deep and we knew we had to swing the bat, we knew we had to play," Quins director of rugby Billy Millard told reporters, using a cricket reference.

"The one thing you know about this competition is that each game you progress it gets tougher, whoever comes up will be another step up," he added.

Northampton ran in nine tries at Franklin Gardens to rout the Bulls of South Africa to make the semi-finals for the first time since 2011.

The under-strength Bulls left out big names such as Willie le Roux, Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse while blaming injuries and an epic journey from Pretoria via eight different airlines for the omissions.