La Rochelle boss Ronan O’Gara has admitted captain Victor Vito is in a “massive race against time” to face Leinster in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final in Marseille and is looking at using a hurling glove to allow another All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow to play despite two broken bones in a hand.
Vito, who would be making his final appearance for the club, has an ankle injury and is in a moon boot and together with Kerr-Barlow they are key players in a La Rochelle team trying to win a first major title under O’Gara who is more confident of having Wallaby strong man Will Skelton in his match 23 after the lock came through a short stint as a replacement in last weekend’s 32-13 win over Stade Francais.
O’Gara can take heart from La Rochelle’s win over Leinster 32-23 in the Cup semi-finals last year although they could not use that victory to claim the trophy, losing to Toulouse in the final.
O’Gara believes Leinster -and his own team -are better this season and admits the Irish province are delivering impressive performances “spitting “out opponents with a side lead by Jonny Sexton, producing vintage rugby at No10.
O’Gara said: “Victor is struggling with an ankle injury and he played 43 minutes in his final game and had a kick off reception and got his foot caught and someone fell on him in an awkward position. He is sore today and in a moon boot and he is in a massive race against time.
“Kerr-Barlow has two broken bones in his hand and I am trying to see if I can get some hurling advice and get one of those micro gloves potentially made and we will see what we can do and explore every possibility depending on his pain threshold and his grip. Also the legality and see how that goes.
“Will Skelton had nothing sinister after the match and did 15 minute in a slow paced game but the positive is he hasn’t had a reaction in his calf. Tomorrow will tell us more and if he keeps going to plan we will see what we can get out of him at the weekend.
“It is very possible to do what we did against Leinster last season but we are aware they have got better and I think we most definitely have got better as well. There are elements in our game that we need to be better at to give ourselves a fighting chance. We are a team that is starting to believe in itself and I hope that we are good enough on Saturday. Leinster are humming, churning out performances and spitting up the opposition easily. You are just hoping they will find it more difficult against us.
“Jonny Sexton’s form – 12 months ago he wasn’t playing as good rugby has he is now – and that is a positive for them. They will be highly skilled and we have to take confidence from last year and start well. There is new appreciation of putting the group before the player.”