Sexton snatches draw for Leinster
November 12, 2011
Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald beats Timoci Nagusa to a high ball during the game in Montpellier
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Jonathan Sexton landed a penalty with the last kick of the game to earn Leinster a 16-16 draw with Montpellier after an enthralling Heineken Cup Pool 3 clash at the Stade de la Mosson on Saturday afternoon.
Montpellier had appeared set to record a shock win over the reigning champions after moving ten points clear early in the second half, Francois Trinh-Duc slotting over a penalty after a Fulgence Ouedraogo try and some solid goal-kicking from Benoit Paillaugue had helped the hosts into a 13-6 lead at the interval.
However, Leinster rallied in the final quarter and Sean Cronin dragged the visitors right back into the contest when he forced his way over for a try on 66 minutes after a rampaging run. Sexton, the province's match-winner in Cardiff in May, converted Cronin's score before landing a last-gasp penalty amid a cacophony of boos to salvage a share of the spoils for his side.
Leinster were missing the injured Brian O'Driscoll, Cian Healy and Shane Horgan from the team that won last season's Heineken Cup final against Northampton, with Heinke van der Merwe, Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney the men to replace them.
Summer signing Damian Browne, no stranger to this kind of environment after his year spent at Brive, partnered captain Leo Cullen in the second-row in the absence of departed lock Nathan Hines, while Isaac Boss was preferred to Eoin Reddan at scrum-half.
Montpellier, with just two wins from nine Top 14 fixtures so far this season, insisted during the week they were hoping to use this match as a catalyst for kick-starting their season. They were able to recall flanker Ouedraogo and out-half Trinh-Duc for the first time since the Rugby World Cup and, having moved the game to the city's larger football stadium, they were keen to make an early impression.
There was a near-capacity crowd at the Stade de la Mosson and they were in full voice when Benoit Paillaugue kicked last year's Top 14 finalists in front after four minutes. Sexton soon replied for Leinster, though, and he fired over a second penalty from distance after 16 minutes.
It was a hugely physical encounter and Montpellier looked threatening but Leinster had been in a promising position when the game turned after 23 minutes. With men out wide, Isa Nacewa tried a grubber kick through to the right corner only to be blocked by Montpellier's Argentinian fullback Lucas Amorosino. The chase was on for the line then with McFadden looking the favourite to win it but when he did not manage to pick up the loose ball, Amorosino found the onrushing Ouedraogo, who had the freedom of the Leinster 22 to slide home under the posts.
Paillaugue converted and when he struck home a long-range penalty, Montpellier suddenly found themselves 13-6 in front with half-time approaching.
McFadden was held up five metres short of the line as Leinster sought a quick response but only a last-ditch Luke Fitzgerald tackle prevented Geoffrey Doumayrou getting another try at the other end on the cusp of the interval.
It was intense, physical stuff with both number sevens, Sean O'Brien and the huge Georgian Mamuka Gorgodze, coming in for special treatment from the respective defences.
Shane Jennings and Reddan replaced Kevin McLaughlin and Boss early in the second half as the two-time champions started with renewed determination. But the home side stretched their advantage to 16-6 through Trinh-Duc and Leinster may have thought it was not going to be their day when Sexton fired badly wide with a penalty of his own on the 22-metre line.
However, Joe Schmidt's men are not champions for nothing and just a couple of minutes later, Cronin finished off a sweeping Leinster move out wide, showing great pace and power to drive his way over.
Sexton was successful with an extremely tricky conversion attempt, meaning Leinster trailed 16-13. The momentum was firmly with Leinster now and they continued to batter the Montpellier rearguard. They were finally rewarded at the death when Sexton slotted over to snatch a hard-earned draw.
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