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Leinster Show Mettle In Gritty Quarter-Final Win

Leinster Show Mettle In Gritty Quarter-Final Win

Defending champions Leinster outlasted Clermont Auvergne in a gripping Heineken Cup quarter-final at the RDS on Friday, with Jonathan Sexton’s 74th-minute penalty proving to be the match-winning score.



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Scorers: Leinster: Tries: Jamie Heaslip 2; Cons: Jonathan Sexton 2; Pens: Jonathan Sexton 5
Clermont Auvergne: Tries: Julien Malzieu 3; Cons: Brock James 2; Pens: Brock James 3

Clermont Auvergne out-half Brock James missed two late drop goal attempts as Leinster held on to take a one-point victory and qualify for their third Heineken Cup semi-final in five seasons.

Michael Cheika’s men did it the hard way, overcoming an early 10-0 deficit and bouncing back from being 28-23 down with 18 minutes remaining.

Shane Horgan was charged down as he attempted to clear his lines and French winger Julien Malzieu broke through for his third try of the night, with James’ conversion edging the visitors into a five-point lead.

But the defending champions rallied superbly and showed commendable composure during a nail-biting final quarter which saw Jonathan Sexton convert two penalties from three attempts, either side of Anthony Floch’s sin-binning for a deliberate knock on.

Sexton proved the more assured place-kicker in what was a game of many twists. He landed seven of his eight attempts on goal, holding his nerve to grab the match-winning score for Leinster for the third week running.

Sexton’s late drop goal dashed Connacht’s hopes of a famous win at the RDS two weeks ago, and last week saw the St. Mary’s College clubman put a 66th minute penalty through the uprights to edge his province past Munster.

There were plenty of big performers on the night for Leinster, with marauding number 8 Jamie Heaslip crashing through for two crucial first half tries as the hosts recovered from a poor start.

His back row colleagues Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings also saw plenty of ball, working themselves into the ground, and Lions duo Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney carried plenty of threat throughout.

However, the win was marred somewhat by an ankle injury to Kearney which saw him stretchered off three minutes from the finish.

His team-mates did enough to squeeze over the finish line though, with their reward a semi-final trip to France to face Toulouse who beat their French rivals 42-16 in Sunday’s quarter-final.

As Leinster struggled to get out of their half, Clermont dominated the opening exchanges and powered ahead in the 12th minute through Malzieu.

A chip ahead from James did the initial damage, with Gonzalo Canale gathering before finding team captain Aurelien Rougerie tearing forward off his wing and he sent Malzieu over for a neat finish.

The conversion was landed by James, who quickly added a penalty, as Clermont continued to create openings in an impressive early showing.

Leinster were under pressure in defence and they repeatedly fell foul of referee Dave Pearson’s whistle. It took them until the 19th minute to escape their own half.

Having finally cast off the shackles, Cheika’s side hauled themselves level with a Sexton penalty beginning the fightback.

Better was to come in the 23rd minute when a piece of magic from O’Driscoll saw the Ireland captain speed away from James before deceiving both Gonzalo Canale and Rougerie with a crafty backhanded offload to Heaslip.

The big number 8 had support from O’Driscoll as he took the ball on but he opted to go it alone by stepping inside Julien Bonnaire and crashing over with Sexton converting.

James missed two further penalties and the balance of power shifted when Heaslip took a straight line, in front of the visitors’ posts, and barged  over for his second try in the 34th minute.

He won possession at the lineout and then picked up after a drive from the energetic McLaughlin to make the line, much to the delight of the capacity crowd.

Sexton converted and then added a penalty to put Leinster 20-10 ahead going into half-time, with Morgan Parra squandering a chance to reduce the deficit after Clermont had changed place-kickers.

Malzieu outpaced Horgan for the left corner to add his second try, just four minutes into the second half, as Clermont clinically worked an overlap created by sucking in Leinster’s pack.

James missed the conversion but slotted a penalty, leaving this fast-paced match finely balanced on a knife edge.

Stan Wright, Jennings and McLaughlin accumulated hard yards to set up a good field position finished by three points from Sexton.

The tension grew with James finally hitting the target and then Clermont surged ahead, capitalising on two errors from Horgan to send Malzieu over for his third.

Horgan, in his first game back from a foot injury, failed to trap a long kick as he covered in the Leinster 22 and then saw his attempted clearance charged down by Joubert. The onrushing Malzieu gobbled up the loose ball before slicing through to score to the left of the posts.

James added the conversion but Clermont’s hearts were in their mouths as television match official Geoff Warren poured over replays of Eoin Reddan attempting to ground the ball over the whitewash.

Leinster had upped the tempo as they sought a response and Kearney, haring onto O’Driscoll’s pop pass, was hauled down just short of the line.

From the subsequent phase, the home forwards rumbled even closer and scrum half Reddan was only inches away from touching down. Warren ruled that it could not be awarded.

As the hosts maintained their presence in the Clermont half, Sexton kicked another penalty for a tackle offence and Leinster’s prospects improved when full-back Floch was sin-binned for a deliberate knock on as Horgan sought to send Gordon D’Arcy free.

James missed what looked a straightforward drop goal after the durable Clermont forwards had done all the hard work and Sexton coolly fired his fifth penalty before Leinster had to endure a nerve-jangling finish.

But there were sighs of relief all round for the title holders when James was off target with his second drop goal shot from outside the 22, as time ran out on the French side’s valiant effort.

TIME LINE: 7 minutes – Clermont Auvergne penalty: missed by Brock James – 0-0; 12 mins – Clermont Auvergne try: Julien Malzieu – 0-5; conversion: Brock James – 0-7; 17 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: Brock James – 0-10; 22 mins – Leinster penalty: Jonathan Sexton – 3-10; 23 mins – Leinster try: Jamie Heaslip – 8-10; conversion: Jonathan Sexton – 10-10; 28 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: missed by Brock James – 10-10; 32 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: missed by Brock James – 10-10; 34 mins – Leinster try: Jamie Heaslip – 15-10; conversion: Jonathan Sexton – 17-10; 37 mins – Leinster penalty: Jonathan Sexton – 20-10; 40+1 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: missed by Morgan Parra – 20-10; Half-time – Leinster 20 Clermont Auvergne 10; 44 mins – Clermont Auvergne try: Julien Malzieu – 20-15; conversion: missed by Brock James – 20-15; 50 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: Brock James – 20-18; 56 mins – Leinster penalty: Jonathan Sexton – 23-18; 59 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: missed by Brock James – 23-18; 60 mins – Clermont Auvergne penalty: Brock James – 23-21; 62 mins – Clermont Auvergne try: Julien Malzieu – 23-26; conversion: Brock James – 23-28; 66 mins – Leinster penalty: Jonathan Sexton – 26-28; 69 mins – Clermont Auvergne yellow card: Anthony Floch (deliberate knock on); 70 mins – Leinster penalty: missed by Jonathan Sexton – 26-28; 74 mins – Leinster penalty: Jonathan Sexton – 29-28; Full-time – Leinster 29 Clermont Auvergne 28

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Stan Wright, John Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements used: Cian Healy for van der Linde (half-time), Bernard Jackman for Fogarty (74), Girvan Dempsey for Kearney (77, inj). Not used: Mike Ross, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Paul O’Donohoe, Shaun Berne.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Anthony Floch; Aurelien Rougerie (capt), Marius Joubert, Gonzalo Canale, Julien Malzieu; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Mario Ledesma, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Thibaut Privat, Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry, Elvis Vermeulen.

Replacements used: Julien Pierre for Privat, Alexandre Audebert for Lapandry (both 53 mins), Vincent Debaty for Domingo (71), Benoit Cabello for Ledesma (74). Not used: Clément Ric, Kevin Senio, Gavin Williams, Wesley Fofana.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)