In any sport, the key to being the best team is to have a perfect balance, which is why La Rochelle works.
Examine history, teams with an excellent attack, but a poor defence rarely get anywhere, and vice versa.
2015 All Blacks
If you look at the New Zealand side that won the 2015 Rugby World Cup, there is perfect harmony in all facets. Harmony in experience, in star power, in impact, and in both the attack and defence.
Look deeper into the side, objectively, New Zealand’s front row was not the best. Dane Coles was the top hooker in the world. But Joe Moody and Owen Franks were not the top props in that competition.
This was balanced by the star power in the rest of the pack. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were the best lock pairing in the world. Richie McCaw and Kieran Read were the best loose forwards in the world, compensating for the powerful, yet cavalier Jerome Kaino.
The same was true for the backs, players like Conrad Smith, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith provided a platform for flashy players. Their hard-working approach allowed Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Nehe Milner-Skudder, and Julian Savea to play their eccentric brand of rugby.
This union of elements in the game secured the World Cup for the All Blacks. The same aspects of the game make La Rochelle a fun team to watch, and a top contender for the Top14 title.
La Rochelle Superstars
La Rochelle’s balance begins with their experience, with several seasoned internationals providing wisdom to the top prospects in France.
Number 8 Victor Vito has 100 caps for the Hurricanes, 33 for the All Blacks, and a World Cup Winners medal. Captain Jason Eaton has 88 caps for the Canes and 15 for the All Blacks. He was also the IRPA Newcomer of the Year in 2006. Flanker Kevin Gourdon has 129 caps for La Rochelle and 15 for France. Tighthead Uini Atonio has 96 caps for the club and 28 for France.
Scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow has 68 caps for the Chiefs and 27 for the All Blacks. Fly-half Brock James has 289 caps for Clermont. Centre Geoffrey Doumayrou has a combined 162 caps for Montpellier and Stade Francais. Finally, winger Rene Ranger has 71 caps for the Blues and a fearsome reputation as the man to demolish Julian Savea.
Looking at all of this experience, it’s easy to understand why they are second in the table, three points behind Montpellier. But, this does not tell the whole story. Not by a long way. Not enough recognition has gone to the young and unsung heroes of this La Rochelle side.
La Rochelle Youngsters
Dany Priso has been a revelation at loosehead with his strength, pace and athleticism reminding some of a young Tendai Mtawarira. And at 23 years old, he is favoured for a France call-up and a long career in the game.
Mohamed Bourgarit is another young French front-rower who seems to be yet another hooking prodigy. His massive performance against Wasps will have certainly caught the attention of the French selection panel.
In the second row, youngster Thomas Jolmes is challenging Romain Sazy and Jone Qovu Nailiko for the starting spot. He was yet another to have a huge contribution against Wasps.
Other players have benefitted from this experience, Levani Botia has become a menace at openside and inside centre. Wings Vincent Rattez and Gabriel Lacroix have received international call-ups for France. Pierre Aguillon has formed a fearsome and formidable centre partnership with Geoffrey Doumayrou.
Coupled with immense squad depth, La Rochelle’s perfect balance of experience and youth have them challenging for top spot in the Top14.
In time we will see how far it takes them.
Author: Andrew Weaver
My name is Andrew, I live in New York City, USA, and I play second and back row for Play Rugby USA. When I am not playing rugby, I’m drawing, or enjoying a good book. Thankfully, I was able to navigate through the other American sports and land on rugby.