Brian O'Driscoll was captain courageous for Leinster on Saturday as he fought off a stomach bug to score a hat-trick of tries in their 26-10 victory over Agen.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 2: Saturday, December 9
LEINSTER 26 AGEN 10, Lansdowne Road (Att: 18,652)
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Chris Whitaker, Brian O'Driscoll 3; Pens: Gordon D'Arcy 2
Agen: Try: Rupeni Caucaunibuca; Con: Jerome Miquel; Pen: Miquel
O'Driscoll helped himself to three tries, taking his European haul to 19 tries in 43 games and getting his province's qualification bid for the Heineken Cup's knockout stages back on track.
The hard-fought win sees Leinster top of the Pool 2 standings ahead of next Saturday's mouth-watering return match with Agen (Stade Armandie, kick-off 3.30pm Irish time).
In the final Heineken Cup match at the old Lansdowne Road, Australian scrum half Chris Whitaker also bagged his first Heineken Cup try on a night when failings in the scrum and goal-kicking departments threatened to scupper the hosts' chances of a much-needed win.
Agen's biggest threat, the Fijian winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca did burst his way over for a second half try - only his second ever Heineken Cup score - but the French side never made full use of their forward power.
Leinster's scrum woes were there for all to see when they were forced to substitute their short term signing Stan Wright, the Cook Islands prop who stepped into the breach with Will Green (neck) and Fosi Pala'amo (neck) out injured, at half-time. Wright battled gamely, but his six weeks without a match caught up on him.
Experienced Ireland prop Reggie Corrigan, making his 128th appearance for the province, came on to steady the ship. Ronan McCormack also showed his versatility by switching to tighthead.
Leinster will need to solidify their scrum before next weekend's tie, but with O'Driscoll running the show, they were always in control of the home leg.
It took just three minutes for the Agen try line to be crossed. Stephen Keogh bulldozed through and was held up short before Whitaker snapped onto ruck ball and dived over through the smallest of gaps to score - quite a way for the former Wallaby to begin his Heineken Cup debut.
Without a recognised goal kicker - they will not see knee injury victim Felipe Contepomi back until the new year - Leinster struggled and although full-back Girvan Dempsey was willing, his kicking was below par, even allowing for the wintry conditions.
...Leinster full-back Girvan Dempsey takes on the Agen defence...
Leinster should have been further than 10-3 in front at the break - Dempsey missed three shots at goal in all, but was not the only offender as O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan also failed to make use of overlaps.
On one particular occasion, the Irish skipper, seeking his second try late in the opening half, had the ball smacked out of his grasp by Caucaunibuca as he lunged over the whitewash at the Havelock Square end.
O'Driscoll showed his class on the quarter-hour though, when he intercepted Agen out-half Jerome Miquel and raced a full 70 metres, fending off Caucaunibuca, to score in the right corner. Agen ended the half on the up as some powerful play from their pack saw Miquel reduce the gap with a close range penalty.
Gordon D'Arcy assumed the kicking duties from Dempsey, early in the second half, and he cracked over an easy effort on 51 minutes to re-establish a seven-point lead for Leinster.
The Ireland centre added his second penalty shortly after the hour and Leinster's second win of the competition was confirmed on 66 minutes when O'Driscoll, who had spent the week trying to shake off a stomach bug and was actually physically sick on the pitch, spun in for his second try.
D'Arcy missed the conversion and Agen made a fight of it when three minutes later, Caucaunibuca ran in from the left flank, despite the best efforts of Dempsey and Denis Hickie.
A late sin-binning for former All Black Kees Meeuws, who walked for a ruck offence, played into Leinster's hands and the bonus point try came when a brilliant long cut-out pass from Malcolm O'Kelly gave O'Driscoll the space to make the corner again.
...Leinster flanker Stephen Keogh charges through, with Agen's Lucas Ostiglia and Wilhem Stolz for company...
TIME LINE: 3 minutes - Leinster try: Chris Whitaker - 5-0; conversion: missed by Girvan Dempsey; 13 mins - Leinster try: Brian O'Driscoll - 10-0; conversion: missed by Girvan Dempsey; 40+7 mins - Agen penalty: Jerome Miquel - 10-3; Half-time - Leinster 10 Agen 3; 51 mins - Leinster penalty: Gordon D'Arcy - 13-3; 64 mins - Leinster penalty: Gordon D'Arcy - 16-3; 66 mins - Leinster try: Brian O'Driscoll - 21-3; conversion: missed by Gordon D'Arcy; 69 mins - Agen try: Rupeni Caucaunibuca - 21-8; conversion: Jerome Miquel - 21-10; 80 mins - Agen yellow card: Kees Meeuws; 80+4 mins - Leinster try: Brian O'Driscoll - 26-10; conversion: missed by Gordon D'Arcy; Full-time - Leinster 26 Agen 10
LEINSTER: Girvan Dempsey; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie; Christian Warner, Chris Whitaker; Ronan McCormack, Brian Blaney, Stan Wright, Trevor Hogan, Malcolm O'Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Reggie Corrigan for Wright (half-time), Guy Easterby for Whitaker, Cameron Jowitt for Keogh (both 67), Luke Fitzgerald for Hickie (73), Owen Finegan for Jowitt (75), Kieran Lewis for O'Driscoll (80+5). Not used: Bernard Jackman.
AGEN: Pepito Elhorga; Sylvain Mirande, Conrad Stoltz, Manu Ahotaeiloa, Rupeni Caucaunibuca; Jerome Miquel, Nicolas Morlaes (capt); Eusebio Guinazu, Ace Tiatia, Kees Meeuws, Wilhem Stolz, Sorin Socol, Matthieu Lievremont, Lucas Ostiglia, Opeti Fonua.
Replacements used: Adri Badenhorst for Socol (47 mins), Fabrice Culine for Ostiglia (50), Luc Lafforgue for C Stolz (62), Laurent Cabarry for Guinazu (65), Alessio Galasso for Fonua (80+2). Not used: Andrew Fulton, Morrisson Faaletino.
Heineken Cup man of the match: Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)