Ihaia West stands up on the big stage

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The former Hurricanes and Blues first five-eighths had a 100 per cent goal-kicking record with three conversions and a penalty goal in Saturday's 24-21 Champions Cup final win over the favoured Leinster side in Marseille's Stade Vélodrome.

Midi Olympique, France's rugby newspaper, said questions surrounded West's ability in big games, especially after a poor kicking semifinal against Racing.

The newspaper asked how West went from a magnificent loser to a real hero?

"Here, we can evoke the pride of the champion, the natural irrationality of sport, the aberrations of a destiny.

"We can also think that by keeping their playmaker in the contest at all costs, by choosing not to add a 'spare wheel' to him in case of a penalty shootout on Saturday, the Rochelle staff deliberately protected and empowered the former Blues player, offering him another chance when others would have replaced him approaching the final stages," it said.

West told the newspaper that he had never lost confidence.

"The semifinal against Racing wasn't my best outing, it's true, but I never let my head down.

"And then, the staff made me understand, before the final, that penalty kicks would not be the most important part of my performance.

"I had to be the leader of the attack, the guide of the team. That's what gave me confidence," he said.

Former All Blacks first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga said during a Six60 concert in Paris earlier in the year he exchanged text messages with West.

"That night, he said to me: 'The next time I get my chance in the final, I swear I won't miss it.'

"Frankly, what he achieved in Marseille is simply amazing," he said.

Patrice Collazo, the coach of La Rochelle who recruited him before he moved on to coach Toulon, said West was recruited to give La Rochelle a tactician at first five-eighths. That move was criticised.

"This decision caused a tidal wave. But isn't that always what happens, when you're right before everyone else?" he said.


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