Ihaia West was delighted to win a European rugby title for Toulouse ahead of Toulon’s move

Kiwi pivot Ihaia West limited his career with La Rochelle with the club’s first rugby title of the European Champions Cup before his transfer to French rivals Toulon.

The former Hawke’s Bay, Blues and Hurricanes first five-eighth kicked nine points in a 24-21 win over Leinster in Marseille on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).

La Rochelle's Kiwi kicker Ihaia West (R) embraces Fijian teammate Levani Botia after winning the European Champions Cup final.

David Rogers / Getty Images

La Rochelle’s Kiwi kicker Ihaia West (R) embraces Fijian teammate Levani Botia after winning the European Champions Cup final.

West, former Māori All Black, and Timaru-born French test prop Uini Atonio were the Kiwis in the La Rochelle lineup, which was without injured ex-All Blacks Victor Vito and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

After cracking the game-ending final conversion to Arthur Retière’s late attempt, West was torpedoed by ecstatic teammates.

“No one gave us a chance … but we deeply believed that we had what it took to win,” he told a television interviewer. “I honestly don’t know what to say. The fans were amazing. It was special. ”

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Ihaia West scores one of his goals against Leinster.

David Rogers / Getty Images / Getty Images

Ihaia West scores one of his goals against Leinster.

West will move to Toulon on a three-year deal at the end of the French Top 14 season next month.

He earned seven out of 10 ratings from Planet Rugby for his performance in Marseille. the website noted him: “He did what was asked of him in the multi-phase moves of La Rochelle and effectively distributed the ball. Nailed everything he tried from the tee including a difficult conversion in the first half.”

It was a welcome victory for La Rochelle after losing last year’s European Champions Cup and French Top 14 final against Toulouse.

It was also the first major training title for La Rochelle’s Irish director of rugby Ronan O’Gara, a former Crusaders assistant.

La Rochelle also launched former Wallabies lock Will Skelton while Fiji’s hybrid midfield back or winger Levant Botia came off the bench to provide some muscle in the final waves to the test line.

Leinster Irish captain Jonathan Sexton kicked six penalties and his substitute Ross Byrne also scored a goal.

But Leinster, chasing a fifth title win, could not break La Rochelle’s defensive line to win a try.

Leinster have launched New Zealand-born Irish internationals Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe, with former Crusaders backing Michael Alaalatoa second-half substitute.

But the Irish side – title favorites in the United Rugby Championship – could not find their usual attacking rhythm after leading 12-7 at halftime and were held to a try for the first time this season.

O’Gara, the Irish midfielder excellent, said, “We knew Leinster were usually out of sight in the first half, so when we came five down at half-time, we knew that was all right.

“We had to take away their time and space and we knew we had to win trials to win. It was a big heart. We could have rolled, but we didn’t, and I think this is the beginning of something special.”

La Rochelle backer Dany Priso shows off his joy at the final whistle.

David Rogers / Getty Images / Getty Images

La Rochelle backer Dany Priso shows off his joy at the final whistle.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen said he was “just gutted for everyone really” in his camp.

“The blue team is now licking its wounds. There are good margins, some defensive sets … it’s probably a story before we got into that situation.

“We probably weren’t accurate enough … we didn’t deliver … but that’s a lot of credit for La Rochelle too, they put us under a lot of pressure, and a hat to them. But it’s very hard, it’s very, very hard. ”

Cullen admitted that La Rochelle had come to Marseille with a plan to “get us out of our stride” and it worked.

La Rochelle French test star Grégory Alldritt greeted the fans on his side to inspire the return and talked about how the team wanted to give their supporters something to cheer about after last year’s final disappointment.

“We are returning this trophy to our supporter,” he said. “They deserve it more than we do. They are more European champions than us. “

O’Gara said La Rochelle was “second division eight years ago. Now we’re playing with the big boys, and why not, why not us? …”


La Rochelle 24 (Raymond Rhule, Pierre Bourgrarit, ArthurRetière try ;; Ihaia West 3 con, pen). Leinster 21 (Jonathon Sexton 6 pen, Ross Byrne pen) HT: Leinster 12-7.

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