Kearney backs Leinster to bounce back from final defeat

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Jordan Larmour of Leinster celebrates scoring with Jimmy O'Brien of Leinster during the United Rugby Championship Quarter-final match between Leinster Rugby and Glasgow Warriors at RDS Arena in Dublin, Ireland on June 4, 2022 (Photo by Andrew SURMA/ SIPA USA).No Use Germany.
Kearney believes Leinster can avenge their defeat to La Rochelle in next season's EPCR Champions Cup

Former Leinster fullback Rob Kearney believes his old team have a great chance of rebounding from last year’s EPCR Champions Cup final defeat to lift the trophy in Dublin next May.

Kearney, who toured twice with the British and Irish Lions, picked out the clash with last season’s semi-finalists Racing 92 as one of the standout games of the pool stage.

Four-time champions Leinster will also face Gloucester Rugby, who return to the premier competition after a one-season absence in which they reached the EPRC Challenge Cup quarterfinals.

And with the final held at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Kearney, who made 219 appearances for the URC semi-finalists, believes they will be one of the favourites for the title.

He said: "I think having the final here in Dublin is obviously massive for them, knowing that if they can get there, they’ll be in with a very good chance again.

“It was a disappointing season for Leinster, especially since they were going so well throughout the year.

“They hadn’t lost many games, and everyone thought they were going to be the team to beat.

“That’s the beauty of finals rugby, if you don’t turn up on the day, you don’t take the silverware home with you.

“But they’ll be really invigorated coming back starting next season. So, I expect them still to be quite strong next year.”

And Kearney thinks head coach Leo Cullen and senior coach Stuart Lancaster will recognise the considerable challenge their pool opponents pose, especially with Racing topping Pool A in 2021-22.

He added: “They’ll know that they’re both two dangerous teams. Gloucester might not have a huge pedigree in this competition, but they’re still a very difficult team to beat away from home.

“They certainly will not be viewing those games as walkovers in any way.

“La Défense Arena in Paris where Racing plays is a difficult place to go and win.

“Leinster of course will be very wary of their opposition in those first few games.”

The 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will be the most exciting yet.

With the inclusion of South African clubs, there will be new rivalries between clubs who have never played each other before, and Kearney is thrilled by their introduction.

“I think it’s brilliant for the competition. I think everyone’s excited to come and see them finally join this competition," said the former full back.

“Of course, they bring a huge amount of size and power, which is something we know the French do already.

“But having that added dimension of the South African teams doing it too is going to make this a much more difficult competition to win.

“I think for us as supporters and fans that’s ultimately what we want to see. I think it’s fantastic that they’re joining and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they fare.”

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the tournament organiser for the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, featuring the very best club rugby teams from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and – for the first time from the 2022/23 season – South Africa.

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