Leinster pull clear of chasing pack
December 18, 2010
Sean O'Brien scored Leinster's third try
© Getty Images
Leinster moved five points clear at the top of Pool 2 in the Heineken Cup with a 24-8 victory over French champions Clermont Auvergne at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
The 2009 champions wrote the blueprint for wrecking big occasions with their Wembley triumph over Saracens back in October, but Clermont were unable to upset the applecart in front of a crowd that had far more spice to it than those that forked out for Ireland's insipid November Test series.
Prop Cian Healy did a large chunk of the damage for Leinster, scoring early on in each half, while all-action flanker Sean O'Brien was also on the scoresheet to avenge a narrow loss at the Stade Marcel Michelin last weekend. Napolioni Nalaga scored the visitors' sole five pointer, their only solace being the fact that their Irish rivals were unable to find the finishing touch for an all-important bonus-point try.
Leinster started quickly with a strong claim from Isa Nacewa at the kick-off and some aggressive defence to halt a Clermont march, but the visitors also signalled their intent with a thrilling break that saw the ball pass through the hands of Aurelien Rougerie, Benoit Baby and Nalaga.
Jonathan Sexton had the chance to open the scoring but hit the post with an early penalty, his first error from the tee during this season's Heineken Cup, but Leinster were merely emboldened by the minor setback. O'Brien, an injury doubt earlier in the week, attacked the gainline with frenzied purpose before a mighty carry from hooker Richardt Strauss took play to within inches of the Clermont line.
The ball was unplayable but with the flick of a switch the hosts came to life again, loose-head Healy unstoppable from a metre out. Sexton this time found his range for a 7-0 lead in the ninth minute.
Clermont's response was swift and easy on the eye as Baby set off with a well-judged chip and collect but after Sione Lauaki had gone within centimetres of the line with a surge, Leinster won a penalty when the visitors went off their feet in pursuit of the ball. The former All Black reasoned with referee Nigel Owens to go upstairs to recheck his efforts, but an insolent response to the Welsh official's answer merely lost his side 10 metres.
Scrum-half Morgan Parra rescued three points with a penalty soon after but saw two long-range opportunities go begging to let Leinster off the hook following some sustained pressure in their 22. Owens was forced to call the captains to together to encourage some sympathetic work at the breakdown after a rash of penalties and Clermont responded with a well-judged Brock James cross-kick which was plucked from the night sky by Nacewa in stunning fashion, Nalaga left grasping at air with the try-line begging.
Sexton's first penalty then gave Leinster a seven-point lead two minutes before the break, punishing some over-eagerness from Bonnaire as he chopped down Eoin Reddan without the ball.
Leinster began the second half much as they did the first, at pace. Nacewa set them on their way with a dart before a classic Brian O'Driscoll surge brought play to within feet of the line. Nathan Hines crashed across the whitewash only to have his score incorrectly ruled out by Owens, but Leinster were not to be denied. Again it was Healy who provided the finishing touches to a try from a matter of metres out, with Sexton on target with the extras to make it 17-3 on 43 minutes.
Clermont began to unravel and one high-profile error cost them the next try. Baby was the guilty party as he whipped the ball wide in his own 22, his blind pass bobbling into touch to the consternation of Bonnaire. Leinster quickly took the lineout and after Shane Horgan had made the initial inroad, O'Brien powered over.
Clermont made a rare second-half foray into the Leinster 22 following a powerful break by centre Gavin Williams but roared on by the crowd the home side turned the ball over on the line, Owens blowing for a penalty as Les Jaunards hammered away.
The French champions finally found a way through the Leinster defence on 68 minutes, when a powerful lineout maul took play close enough to the line for Nalaga to do his best impression of a back-rower and crash over. As he did last season as Clermont bombed out at the RDS, James suffered a crisis in confidence and sent the conversion wide.
Both sides huffed and puffed in the closing stages but Leinster were unable to forge any openings, the game petering out as the search for a bonus-point was called off by the sound of the final whistle.
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