Cian Healy crossed for two tries as Leinster were at times electrifying in their 16-point dismissal of Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
A record Heineken Cup pool attendance for an Irish province of 44,873 saw Joe Schmidt’s side establish a 10-3 half-time lead on the back of Cian Healy’s eighth-minute try.
Third quarter tries from man-of-the-match Healy and Sean O’Brien and a nine-point kicking contribution from Jonathan Sexton put the result beyond doubt.
Clermont Auvergne’s only response in the second half was an unconverted try from Napolioni Nalaga and although Leinster missed out on a bonus point, they now have a healthy five-point lead in Pool 2.
Brian O’Driscoll started for Leinster after recovering from a jaw injury, while Jamie Heaslip, who was rated doubtful with an ankle problem, passed a late fitness test.
Clermont Auvergne made four changes from last Sunday’s 20-13 home win over Leinster, with Benoit Baby, Gavin Williams, Davit Zirakashvili and Julien Pierre getting call-ups.
There was early intent from both sides in a high quality opening quarter, and Sexton was unfortunate to see his fourth minute penalty bounce back off the right post.
Isa Nacewa and O’Brien were prominent in attack as Leinster took the game to the reigning French champions, and a pass back inside from O’Driscoll almost sent Richardt Strauss over on a diagonal run.
Good clearing out at a ruck set up another immediate chance and Healy plunged over from just metres out. Sexton tucked the conversion over from the left.
A slick counter from Baby got Clermont Auvergne into the hosts’ 22 and Sione Lauaki’s muscular drive was only just thwarted. There was some consolation in the form a penalty from Morgan Parra.
The scrum half missed two penalty efforts coming up to the half hour mark as the French side began to enjoy more possession, with Baby threatening on the counter.
Nacewa did brilliantly to field Brock James’ angled kick, which was intended for Nalaga, and set Leinster off on a long range surge which was added to by strong carrying from Healy and O’Brien.
The territory was Leinster’s as the first half came to a close. Sexton made it 10-3 for the break, punishing Julien Bonnaire for a ruck infringement.
O’Brien and O’Driscoll spearheaded a powerful thrust from the hosts, as the second half began. Referee Nigel Owens ruled that Nathan Hines had been held up over the try-line, but television replays suggested otherwise.
Nevertheless, from the subsequent scrum, Leinster attacked to the right and in a carbon copy of his first half score, Healy was able to rumble over. Television match official Derek Bevan confirmed the grounding and Sexton’s conversion took the gap out to 14 points.
Clermont Auvergne capitulated after a loose pass from Baby trickled into touch near their line. Heaslip’s quickly-taken lineout resulted in Eoin Reddan passing for the onrushing O’Brien to crash over, and French heads visibly dropped.
Sexton added the extras and the game lulled significantly in the final quarter as tiredness crept in.
A Williams break and a well-executed lineout maul showed what the visitors are capable of, and Nalaga salvaged some pride with a 69th minute try.
After an energy-sapping first hour, Leinster’s attacks petered out and a promising late run over halfway from Shane Horgan was spoilt by a forward pass.