Newcastle - Up against Clermont's scarred veterans in the European Challenge Cup
decider, La Rochelle will start their debut final shorn of one their
pillars of experience, captain Victor Vito.
The 32-year-old back-row forward is out of Friday's final in
Newcastle with a shoulder injury with his place taken by French
international Gregory Alldritt.
Physically Alldritt can fill the hole left by Vito. He is only one
centimetre shorter, at 1.91 metres, and at 115 kilogrammes, is three
kilogrammes heavier. But he is 10 years younger, and despite five French
caps, far less experienced.
While Vito has collected two World Cup winner's medals with New
Zealand, the youthful Alldritt, like his club, has never appeared in a
La Rochelle's players have spent the run up to the final dealing with the issue of experience.
"It doesn't necessarily mean anything," said centre Geoffrey
Doumayrou, who scored a try for Stade Francais when they won the final
Coach Jono Gibbes saw it as a chance for his players.
"This is an opportunity for leaders to take responsibility. Some do it, others less so," he said.
New-Zealand born France prop Uini Atonio echoed the sentiment.
"We have a few guys who have been world champions, Top 14 champions
and so on," he said. "We have a good mix between us. And everyone wants
to win this cup."
Yet experience can be two-edged.