Ed Elliot, PA
Jamison Gibson-Park admits the lingering pain of last year’s agonising Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle has fuelled Leinster’s desire for a shot at redemption.
Leo Cullen’s men are preparing for Saturday’s showpiece rematch with the French club in Dublin – 12 months on from losing to a last-gasp try in Marseille.
Scrum-half Gibson-Park concedes the disappointment of the dramatic climax at Stade Velodrome was a bitter pill to swallow.
And the Ireland international is determined to help secure a different outcome against Ronan O’Gara’s side this time around as Leinster bid to equal Toulouse’s record of five Champions Cup titles.
“It’s one of those things that’s mentioned all the time with great teams over the years, the way they use defeats and having it spur you on for the next year,” said Gibson-Park, who won the competition with his province in 2018.
“There’s probably no doubt that it has for us in getting to this point.
“When you work with a collective group to try and get somewhere and you fall at the last hurdle, it’s hard, especially when it’s like that, a few minutes from the end of the game.
⭐CHAMPIONS D’EUROPE 2022 ⭐ pic.twitter.com/GNBeUQuXTV
— Stade Rochelais (@staderochelais) May 28, 2022
“It’s tough moments in the dressing room and on the pitch afterwards.
“You live for those moments where you get to lift trophies and you enjoy those moments in the dressing room with your brothers.
“But the sombre feelings after a defeat stick with you as well.”
Leinster led for most of the 2022 final before replacement scrum-half Arthur Retiere crossed a minute from time in a 24-21 victory for La Rochelle.
A year on from a gut-wrenching trip to the south of France, the Irish club have the luxury of home advantage on this occasion.
New Zealand-born Gibson-Park says the prospect of competing for silverware at a sold-out Aviva Stadium has been a motivating factor throughout the campaign.
“Last year was obviously tough, having to go away to France and play a French team,” said the 31-year-old.
“The La Rochelle fans were out in force that day, like they always are, so I’m sure there will be a few of them that show up to the Aviva Stadium no doubt.
“It was a pretty big carrot for us at the start of the year, the fact it was going to be here in the Aviva.
“We’re looking forward to it, we’ve got the chance to be in front of our friends and family and hopefully a few home supporters.”
Leinster failed to score a try against La Rochelle last year as captain Johnny Sexton slotted six penalties before deputy Ross Byrne added another.
With talisman Sexton sidelined due to a groin injury suffered helping Ireland win the Six Nations Grand Slam, Byrne will partner Gibson-Park in the half-back positions from the start.
The unsung heroes of @leinsterrugby & @staderochelais 🦸♂️
Ross Byrne and Antoine Hastoy are the leading points scorers this season 👏
Do they deserve more plaudits for leading their sides to the #HeinekenChampionsCup Final? pic.twitter.com/X3GMMyobe4
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 9, 2023
“Ross has played all of our games this year in the Champions Cup, so I suppose we’ve adjusted a little bit to life without him (Sexton),” said Gibson-Park.
“He’s been such a big part of Leinster over the last however long it is and he’s an unbelievable player so we miss him massively.
“But I think Ross has done a pretty good job up until this point.”