Leinster thrash Racing to book home quarter-final
January 21, 2011
Sean O'Brien produced another Man of the Match performance in Colombes
© Getty Images
Leinster secured a home tie in this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a 36-11 victory over Racing Metro in their Pool 2 clash at the Stade Yves du Manoir.
Two tries from fly-half Jonathan Sexton and others from fullback Isa Nacewa, No.8 Sean O'Brien and centre Brian O'Driscoll saw the Irish province extend their unbeaten run in Europe and hand Racing a rare home defeat. A try from centre Virimi Vakatawa put the hosts in control in the first half but they were soon blown away by a high-octane Leinster with man of the match O' Brien taking a starring role in defence and attack.
The result carried the Magners League side to the top of the provisional seeding for the last eight and with Toulouse and Northampton the only sides able to usurp them they can look forward to home advantage when the competition reaches the knock-out stages later this year.
Leinster had booked their place in the last-eight with a six-try demolition of Saracens last Saturday but, needing another victory to be sure of playing at home in the last eight, coach Joe Schmidt named a strong line-up for this trip to Paris. In contrast, Racing's interest in the competition ended last week in defeat at Clermont Auvergne and, with a tough Top 14 fixture to come against the same opposition on Wednesday, they fielded a largely second-string team.
An early penalty at scrum time went against Leinster and Hernandez put the home side ahead from the kicking tee. Leinster responded positively but when D'Arcy kicked possession away inside the Racing 22 they were forced into a rapid retreat. Racing fullback Dan Scarbrough pounced on the loose ball before storming downfield and evading the desperate tackle of Leinster's Isaac Boss. A clever kick inside then threatened to split the scrambling defence only for the bounce to go the visitors' way.
Some direct running from winger Luke Fitzgerald then took Leinster back into the Racing 22 and Sexton almost wriggled free before some quick hands put Nacewa over in the corner for the first try of the game. Sexton added the extras before Hernandez pulled a penalty wide of the posts but the home side's disappointment was short-lived. Vakatawa climbed highest to snaffle the re-start and shrugged off the tackle of O'Brien and then scrum-half Isaac Boss before coasting over in the corner. The conversion went awry before a neat chip and chase from Scarbrough appeared to have Leinster in trouble again.
But in fact it was the Irish side that grabbed the next score with Boss and O'Brien combining well in the shadow of the Racing posts to create a try for the latter that was converted by Sexton.
There was no let-up in the open nature of the game with first flanker Rhys Ruddock and then winger Shane Horgan making big gains. Quick ball then had Racing in trouble again with a long pass from centre Gordon D'Arcy stretching the hosts before some more slick passing from Fitzgerald and Nacewa eventually put Sexton in for the try that the fly-half had no trouble converting.
Racing showed signs of life with lock Francois Carl Van der Merwe and then centre Andrea Masi forcing Leinster onto the back foot inside their own 22. But despite a sustained spell of pressure - spearheaded by the Racing pack - they failed to pick a way through a well-organised defence. They were eventually awarded a penalty with Leinster prop Cian Healey guilty of clawing at Racing scrum-half Nicolas Durand at the breakdown and Hernandez slotted the kick but it was precious little reward for their efforts.
Leinster began the second half brightly but a loose pass from Sexton was snapped up by Racing winger Benjamin Fall and his charge towards the Leinster line was only halted by a great tackle from O'Driscoll. The it was the turn of the other Racing winger - Julien Suabade - to streak upfield and his kick ahead into space had to be bundled into touch with Scarbrough bearing down on the ball.
The Leinster defence continued to weather Racing pressure with the help of the home side's error count and they eventually extended their lead courtesy of Sexton's boot when the brute force of O'Brien had wreaked havoc.
Racing introduced some fresh bulk midway through the half but it was the fleet-footed Leinster replacement Fergus McFadden that carved the next opening. Support came in numbers with O'Brien and Nacewa involved again before Sexton exploited a gaping hole to grab his second try and while his conversion was wide the bonus point was in the bag.
A probing kick from O'Driscoll laid the platform for the next score and following the subsequent lineout the centre - celebrating his 32nd birthday - popped up again to take a smart off load from O'Brien and cross for his side's fifth try.
Sexton's conversion hammered home the visitors' advantage and while Racing issued a reminder of their power at the next scrum to draw a penalty they ultimately lacked the cutting edge required to capitalise and add a little gloss to the scoreboard.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.