2023 Stade Rochelais vs Stade Toulousain

La Rochelle Shows Title Credentials With Emphatic Win Over Toulouse

La Rochelle Shows Title Credentials With Emphatic Win Over Toulouse

La Rochelle cemented its Top 14 rugby title credentials with a stunning 30-7 win Saturday over league-leading Toulouse.

Jan 10, 2023 by RugbyPass
La Rochelle Shows Title Credentials With Emphatic Win Over Toulouse

La Rochelle cemented its title credentials for the Top 14 with a stunning 30-7 win Saturday over league-leading Toulouse.

Ronan O'Gara’s side made light work of their formidable opponents under heavy rainfall and controlled almost all facets of the game, including set pieces and the breakdown.

They did so without man-mountain Will Skelton, who is out with a knee injury, New Zealand scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow and France center Jonathan Danty. The win ended an eight-match losing streak against Toulouse, stretching back to September 2019.  

In that time, La Rochelle has lost to its French counterpart in the finals of the Top 14 and Europe. That disastrous run finally came to an end and in emphatic fashion.

From the first whistle, La Rochelle out-muscled Toulouse and dominated possession, taking the lead through a close-range score from second row Romain Sazy, who powered through tackles to cross the whitewash. 

Summer signing Antoine Hastoy, who joined from Pau, kicked the extras and added three penalties to the points tally to put La Rochelle ahead 16-0 at the break.

Their dominance continued into the second half and was rewarded in the 60th minute, when Pierre Boudehent darted over. 

Toulouse had to wait until the final six minutes to get on the scoresheet, courtesy of a fine finish from winger Arthur Retiere, who found space after running a smart support line.

The consolation try did little to alter the momentum, and with the clock in the red, La Rochelle made sure it had the final say, as Kyle Hatherell bundled over to grab his side’s third try of the afternoon.

Toulouse remains at the top of the table despite the loss, but La Rochelle moved up to third, eight points shy of the leaders.

There now will be a two-week respite from league action, as European rugby returns. 

Of course, La Rochelle heads into this year’s tournament as the Champions Cup holders and started the title defense faultlessly, beating Ulster and the Northampton Saints in December.

Their shock win in last summer’s final against tournament favorite, Leinster, was a moment to behold and brought the French club its first taste of European silverware. 

Their latest success against Toulouse shows they have a genuine shot at winning a title which still evades them – the Top 14.

La Rochelle has featured in just one final of the French top-flight, (2021), which it lost to Toulouse. However, La Rochelle now has the valuable experience of winning on the big stage and, having ended an unwanted losing streak against the 21-time champions, they can look ahead to the summer and believe there’s a chance of making more history.

At the center of this surge in form is O'Gara, a shrewd disciple of the game who has transformed the French port town into a rugby automaton in the three and a half years he’s been with the team.

In early December, he signed a five-year contract extension, securing his future up until 2027. The news came at a time when the former Ireland fly-half was an alleged contender for the then vacant England head coaching role.

However, news of his contract means he will remain in France for the foreseeable future.

A major pull for O'Gara staying is the chance to be the head coach who brings La Rochelle its first Top 14 title. In short, the 45-year-old could be the man to bring the club its first European and top-flight league title, and if he were to do so, he would cement his status as a legend of the club.  

There is a genuine chance he achieves that this year, and Saturday’s win against Toulouse demonstrated as much.

Even with the absence of a few key players, and mid-game injuries to prop Uini Atonio and hooker Pierre Bourgarit, La Rochelle ruled the roost, showcasing the true heights of what it can achieve in 2023.

It’s a team characterized by physicality and discipline. Unlike Toulouse, La Rochelle is not defined by infinite star power, but rather guile and a fierce competitive edge. No player fills this mold more than captain Grégory Alldritt, whose work rate is second to none.

The No. 8 is a mainstay of the French national side and topped the carrying charts in last season’s Six Nations, demonstrating the unbridled effort he puts in for any team of which he is a part.

After beating Toulouse, Alldritt and his compatriots joined together in a huddle. His tempered explanation for what was said illuminates the team’s level headedness and focus on winning it all.

“To calm everyone down, the message in the huddle after the game was not to get ahead of ourselves,” Alldritt said to Canal+. “We’ve beaten Toulouse at home, but we’re not French champions because of it.”

Written by Stefan Frost