Stade Rochelais, European rugby champion for the second time, a success that comes from afar

Stade Rochelais won, on Saturday May 20, the right to wear a second star in its jersey, after its victory (26-27) in the Champions Cup final against Leinster. The impressive performance recalls the outcome of the 2022 European Cup, in Marseille, which already pitted the two teams against each other, with the difference that the Charentais-Maritimes were playing on the field this time. ” hostile “, in Ireland, in an Aviva Stadium largely won over to the cause of Dubliners. An incredible scenario, as can be the course of this club which was still playing in Pro D2 in 2014.

Read also: Leinster-Stade rochelais: relive the victory of the Maritimes in the final of the European Rugby Cup

In three years, Stade Rochelais has played in three European Cup finals, two of which have been won, a Top 14 final in 2021 (lost to Stade Toulousain) and is regularly one of the contenders for the title of champion of France. This rise is less a fairy tale than the fruit of a long process carried out internally.

After missing the turn of professionalism in the early 2000s, the caravel club, led by Vincent Merling, former third line from La Rochelle and the oldest president of a high-level rugby club in activity, has begun a profound change. “I have been president for thirty-two years, and I have never considered being European champion, he confided on Saturday, exhausted but happy, in the corridors of the Aviva Stadium. On the other hand, what I have always wanted is for the club to be sustainable, for it to keep its cultural identity, its way of living rugby. »

Modest economic fabric

While French rugby could be summed up at a time when “one club, one big sponsor”, the Stade Rochelais, aware of being located in a city of less than 80,000 inhabitants with a modest economic fabric, made the opposite bet, by creating a network of loyal partners, made up of companies and groups based in the Great West. . The pretended spirit ” farm “ La Rochelle leaders, sometimes mocked in other clubs, has proven to be one of the recipes for the slow path to success. “If it was once said that I was a Don Quixote because I was not a billionaire and I never wanted to own the club, today we see that our model is exemplary and thrills all amateur clubs. »explains the president, also boss of Cafés Merling, member of the group of shareholders who hold the majority of the capital of Stade Rochelais.

Read also: La Rochelle-Leinster: Ronan O’Gara and the Rochelais, conquerors in Irish lands

A first Pro D2 final in 2007 (defeat against Dax) confirmed the enthusiasm of the La Rochelle public for his team. The next, in 2010 (won against Lyon), marked the return to the national rugby elite and united a generation of players that we find today in the club’s organization chart, from Robert Mohr, sports director, to Sébastien Boboul and Romain Carmignani, assistant coaches of the Irishman Ronan O’Gara, pending the arrival next season in the staff of former international Rémi Talès.

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