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Exeter Chiefs will need to overcome reigning champions Stade Rochelais in Bordeaux on Sunday if they are to reach the Heineken Champions Cup final for a second time.
Exeter have struggled for form in the Gallagher Premiership this season but have found their rhythm in the Heineken Champions Cup, winning three from four in Pool A before defeating Montpellier Hérault Rugby and DHL Stormers in the knockout stage.
Meanwhile, La Rochelle have enjoyed an imperious Heineken Champions Cup campaign as they seek back-to-back titles, topping Pool B with four wins before seeing off Gloucester Rugby in the Round of 16 and Saracens in the quarter-finals.
The game kicks off at 15:00 (UK & Irish time) and is available to watch on France TV, BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport and FloRugby.
Stade Rochelais head coach Ronan O’Gara: “There is more energy than usual. We have a lot of players available and we can’t wait until Sunday. The atmosphere in the room reminded me of the one I felt in my time at Munster.”
Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade: “We have spoken about how it’s been such a long time [that] we’ve been together and it’s now coming to an end. It’s definitely given us massive motivation to send them out on a high and give them a special end to their times here.”
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 27, 2023
- Antoine Hastoy has scored more points in the competition than any other player this season (73).
- Levani Botia won a round-high four turnovers in the quarter-finals.
- Thomas Lavault claimed more lineouts on his team’s throw than any other player in the quarter-finals (8).
- Grégory Alldritt has made a competition-high 41 ‘pick-and-gos’ so far this season, amounting to an unrivalled 42 metres in contact from such carries. He has made more carries (97) and contact metres (116) than any other player.
- Sam Simmonds beat seven defenders in the quarter-final – the second-highest total and the most defenders beaten by a forward in the round.
- Joe Simmonds was the only player to kick a 50/22 in the quarter-finals.
- Of the 24 teams who have competed in the Heineken Champions Cup this season, Exeter have averaged the most metres per 80 minutes (142).
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Exeter Chiefs’ dreams of another Heineken Champions Cup final were ruthlessly crushed by Stade Rochelais on Sunday as the French side marched to a statement 47-28 win in Bordeaux.
Reigning champions La Rochelle made it three finals in three years and set up a rematch with Leinster Rugby, who they defeated last year, as Raymond Rhule (2), Tawera Kerr Barlow (2), UJ Seuteni, Grégory Alldritt and Pierre Bourgarit crossed at the Matmut ATLANTIQUE, with Antoine Hastoy adding six conversions.
It is the most points and most tries (seven) scored by a team in a Heineken Champions Cup semi-final.
Exeter, who bid farewell to a number of players who helped them lift the trophy in 2020, were soundly beaten but managed scores through Sam Simmonds, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Olly Woodburn and Jack Yeandle.
Chiefs got off to a dream start as they piled early pressure on La Rochelle before No.8 Simmonds eventually powered over in a trademark finish on five minutes.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 30, 2023
But the hosts would find a response three minutes later as wing Rhule controlled fly-half Hastoy’s chip with a deft piece of footwork before gathering and dotting down.
La Rochelle began to wrestle control of the contest and notched their second try 22 minutes as No.8 Alldritt linked with centre Seuteni, the latter ghosting through the Chiefs defence to cross unchallenged.
When Exeter hooker Dan Frost was sin-binned on half an hour, La Rochelle further seized the initiative, captain Alldritt darting over after scooping up at the back of a dominant scrum.
And the TOP 14 side would score their best try of the half shortly before the break as a delightful, flowing team move ended with scrum-half Kerr Barlow cruising in.
Another stunning score came moments after the restart as La Rochelle ran the ball from deep, ripping through the Exeter defence before Hastoy landed a pinpoint cross-field kick in the arms of Rhule, who stepped inside to finish for his second try of the afternoon.
Looooveeely from @ExeterChiefs 😍👌
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 30, 2023
Hooker Bourgarit added a sixth on 52 minutes as he profited from a rumbling maul, but Chiefs would grab second score shortly before the hour mark courtesy of replacement prop Iosefa-Scott’s close-range finish.
La Rochelle would respond with a seventh try on 67 minutes as Kerr Barlow spotted a gap and finished cleverly for his second, but Exeter hit back again as wing Woodburn completed a cracking move after combining with full-back Stuart Hogg and centre Henry Slade.
Replacement hooker Yeandle squirmed over for the visitors’ fourth on 74 minutes but La Rochelle were never under any serious threat.
The home fans seemed to have one more try to celebrate at the death as their replacement hooker Quentin Lespiaucq Brettes crossed, but the TMO chalked that score off for an illegal maul bind.
But the La Rochelle fans were in full voice as the final whistle blew and confirmed their place in the Heineken Champions Cup showpiece game once again, with Leinster awaiting after their thrashing of Stade Toulousain yesterday.
The Heineken Champions Cup final takes place at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on May 20. Click HERE for more details on EPCR’s 2023 finals.