In the 27 years of Champions Cup rugby, just one team have lifted the trophy five times.

Those five Toulouse stars have been well spread out, to the extent that father and son Emile and Romain Ntamack played key roles in the first and last.

Today, Leinster have the chance to draw level with Toulouse at the top of the charts, and in the space of just 14 seasons.

While two generations of Ntamacks bookended those Toulouse successes, Leinster's triumphs have been charged by a core group of players.

Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy have started all five of the province's Champions Cup finals and won four medals apiece, while Devin Toner has been in the matchday squad on each occasion.

The retiring second row won't be involved today - barring a late injury - but Sexton and Healy will, as they seek a fifth medal, as many as Saracens and the Leicester Tigers combined, the Premiership's two most successful European clubs.

The careers of Sexton and Healy have neatly followed the path of Leinster's journey from hope to expectation since 2009, from getting one over a Munster juggernaut at Croke Park to routinely seeing off their red neighbours in the present day.

And it's no surprise that in the years when Leinster seemed to regress to the chasing pack, both Sexton and Healy were absent in large chunks, with Sexton spending 2013-15 in Paris at Racing 92, and Healy struggling with career-threatening injuries from 2015-17.

At 36 and 34, their influence is still huge on Leo Cullen's side.

A look back on the semi-final against Toulouse would show you all you need to know about Sexton's control over the Leinster machine, dictating their every move in one of the most complete performances of his career.

And while Healy now plays support to Andrew Porter at loosehead, the two-year contract he recently signed speaks to the experience he brings to their setpiece.

In a neat narrative, the man orchestrating the downfall of Sexton and co is Ronan O'Gara, the Apollo Creed to his Rocky Balboa, and the man who some Munster fans may cheekily suggest walked so that Leinster could run.

With years of the Champions Cup often marked by French indifference, it's no surprise to see O'Gara in the crow's nest on La Rochelle's run to consecutive finals, the tournament's record points scorer, looking to join his Leinster counterpart Cullen as the only man to win the championship as a player and coach.

A year ago, they shocked everyone when they bludgeoned their way past Leinster in the semi-final in France, before they failed to find that physical and emotional pitch in the final against Toulouse.

If they're a better team then they were last season, those improvements may only be marginal, while Leinster's 2022 vintage looks far above what they produced a year ago.

It was one of two big final defeats against Ugo Mola's side, losing the Top 14 decider as well a month later.

"Last year, it was a first big final for the club. We were nervous," admitted out-half Ihaia West of their defeats last year.

"In my opinion, we didn't even compete in either of our two finals. We were not good under pressure, me first of all."

While Stade Rochelais have existed for more than 120 years, they're relative upstarts in terms of the modern game, stepping up to the top tier in France 10 years ago, before reaching their first major finals in 2021.

O'Gara (below) was head coach last season, working under director of rugby Jono Gibbes, before taking on the top job this year after Gibbes departed for Clermont.

And although their form has been hot and cold in the bear pit of the Top14 this season, they have found another gear in the second half of the campaign, moving back into the top four of the French league, as well as seeing off Bordeaux-Begles, Montpellier and Racing 92 in the Champions Cup to return to a European final.

If they're a better team then they were last season, those improvements may only be marginal, while Leinster's 2022 vintage looks far above what they produced a year ago.

For starters, the side that La Rochelle out-muscled in last year's semi-final was without Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park and Caelan Doris, three players who have been among the best for Leinster and Ireland in recent months.

Add to that the switch of Porter to loosehead, the improvement and emergence of Ross Molony and the breakthrough of Dan Sheehan, who at times have felt like new signings, not to mention the actual new signing of Michael Ala'alatoa.

If Greg Alldritt (below) and Wian Liebenberg can disrupt play on the ground, and Ihaia West and Dillyn Leyds can find touch on a regular basis, La Rochelle could take enough sting out of the punch to absorb the Leinster hits.

It's all added that extra bit of bulk to the Leinster pack, a pack that was humbled against O'Gara's side a year ago.

The reshuffle of personnel has given them more gainline winners on the pitch then they have had in previous seasons, but the scrum is still a work in progress.

With Porter still ironing out the creases of his switch from tighthead to loosehead, the Irish and Leinster scrum has been targeted a number of times this season.

Against both Leicester in the quarter-final and Toulouse in the semi-final the Leinster front row came under a lot of pressure and gave up penalties, and with Porter having previously struggled against La Rochelle's monstrous tighthead Uini Atonio when the sides met in Irish and French shirts during the Six Nations, it opens a road for La Rochelle to drive down.

Add in the weight of fit-again Will Skelton pushing from the second row, and there's roughly 275kg of weight to contend with.

The only issue with that tactic is that getting Leinster to knock on the ball is about as easy as it is to force them into conceding a penalty.

James Lowe's 10 tries this season are just one shy of Chris Ashton's single season record in the Champions Cup, while on the other side of the ball Molony and Van der Flier have each logged 89 tackles, more than any other player.

The other approach is to slow the game right down to a crawl.

With an average ruck speed below three seconds allowing the ball to come in and out of the breakdown like water from a tap, and the ball-in-play time more than six minutes longer than La Rochelle's respective time against Racing 92, Cullen's side will win by a distance if they can maintain similar numbers, particularly under the baking Marseille heat.

But if Greg Alldritt (below) and Wian Liebenberg can disrupt play on the ground, and West and Dillyn Leyds can find touch on a regular basis, La Rochelle could take enough sting out of the punch to absorb the Leinster hits.

Alldritt's 113 carries are 31 more than any other player this season

"I don't think it will be as fast, or as high ball-in-play, because it doesn't make sense for La Rochelle to allow that happen," said Bernard Jackman on the RTÉ Rugby podcast.

"However, there will be opportunities for Leinster to play high-speed and high-tempo.

"The breakdown won't be as easy as it was against Toulouse because La Rochelle have more jackal threats, real jackal threats, so they will have to be careful around the breakdown."

If both sides play to their strengths, it's hard to argue against Leinster, given the number of difference-makers in the team.

James Lowe's 10 tries this season are just one shy of Chris Ashton's single season record in the Champions Cup, while on the other side of the ball Molony and Josh van der Flier have each logged 89 tackles, more than any other player.

Their attack has been relentless. Their 343 points so far across the campaign is just 36 shy of the single-season record set by Stade Francais in 2000/01, having hit their mark in seven games compared to Stade's nine.

If you remove the forfeiture against Montpellier from the equation, they've averaged 49 points and 6.7 tries per game in the Champions Cup this season.

And even looking beyond the big scores against indifferent Montpellier and Bath sides in the pool stages, they're still hitting roughly 33 points and four tries on average through the knockouts.

Should they get something close to parity in the collisions and setpiece, their versatility and precision in attack could prove too much for La Rochelle and O'Gara to handle, and put another medal around the necks of Sexton and Healy.

And if they do that, who would back against them getting a sixth?

Verdict: Leinster


Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O'Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala'alatoa, Joe McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Ciaran Frawley.

La Rochelle: Brice Dullin; Dillyn Leyds, Jérémy Sinzelle, Jonathan Danty, Raymond Rhule; Ihaia West, Thomas Berjon; Dany Priso, Pierre Bourgarit, Uini Atonio; Thomas Lavault, Will Skelton; Wiaan Liebenberg, Matthias Haddad, Grégory Alldritt (capt).

Replacements: Facundo Bosch, Reda Wardi, Joel Sclavi, Romain Sazy, Remi Bourdeau, Arthur Retiere, Levani Botia, Jules Favre.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)

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