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O’Driscoll Try Crowns Comfortable Win For Leinster

O’Driscoll Try Crowns Comfortable Win For Leinster

Brian O’Driscoll celebrated his 32nd birthday with a try-scoring contribution in Leinster’s bonus point victory over Racing Metro 92, which clinched a home quarter-final for the province.

Brian O’Driscoll crossed in the 69th minute for Leinster’s fifth try at a chilly Stade Yves du Manoir, as Joe Schmidt’s pool winners turned in another impressive display.

First half tries from Isa Nacewa, man-of-the-match Sean O’Brien and Jonathan Sexton gave them a 21-11 half-time lead against their understrength French opponents, for whom Heineken Cup debutant Virimi Vakatawa scored a fine individual effort.

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Out-half Sexton, who finished with 21 points, notched Leinster’s bonus point score in the second half, before birthday boy O’Driscoll completed a comfortable win.

O’Driscoll and company 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 quarter-finals, Schmidt named a strong line-up for this trip to Paris.

Gordon D’Arcy returned from injury at inside centre, while Isaac Boss was preferred to Eoin Reddan at scrum half. With the inspirational Jamie Heaslip still absent with an ankle injury, the in-form O’Brien continued at number 8.

Racing’s interest in the competition ended last week in Clermont and, with a tough Top 14 fixture to come against the same opposition on Wednesday, they fielded a largely second string team.

Argentina’s Juan Martin Hernandez was at out-half but there was no place in the side for the likes of Lionel Nallet, Francois Steyn and Sebastien Chabal.

Hernandez opened the scoring with a penalty from 40 metres but it did not take the 2009 champions long to warm up on a bitterly cold night.

After spotting a gap in the Racing defence, Sexton’s offload just failed to find Shane Horgan but it only held the visitors up temporarily. They showed great patience before working the ball out to the right where Horgan sent Nacewa over for the first try. Sexton converted to put Leinster 7-3 ahead.

But after Hernandez missed another penalty, Racing hit back with a stunning try. Fijian powerhouse Vakatawa, who is just 18, gathered the restart and evaded three Leinster tackles to score in the right corner before Hernandez missed the conversion.

O’Brien, who signed a new contract during the week, almost replied instantly after chipping on for himself. A minute later when Racing knocked on in their own 22, however, O’Brien was there to capitalise and dot down after linking with Boss. Sexton converted to make it 14-8 at the end of the first quarter.

It was O’Brien’s fourth try in six appearances in this season’s tournament, and continued his excellent attacking form.

Just four minutes later, the visitors added a third try. A drive by the forwards was held up on the line but Leinster’s quick-passing backs once again came to the fore.

The ball was swept wide to Luke Fitzgerald on the left and when it was worked back inside to D’Arcy again, the fleet-footed centre gave Sexton the simple task of finishing the move off. He again added the extras to leave Leinster for a 21-8 scoreline.

Racing dug deep though and enjoyed a long spell in the Leinster 22 before Hernandez scored another penalty in the 36th minute.

Leading 21-11 at the interval, Sexton nudged Leinster further ahead with a 54th minute penalty, in what was a slow-burning second period. Heineken Cup debutant Rhys Ruddock was enjoying the exchanges up front, getting over the gain-line time and again.

Eight minutes later, Sexton completed his brace of tries, with replacement Fergus McFadden and the forwards doing the damage before Nacewa fed the out-half with the scoring pass.

With the French side tiring, O’Driscoll rounded things off by taking a neat delivery from O’Brien and cantering in by the posts.

Speaking after the game, Joe Schmidt said: “I think anyone who was at the game today saw the amount of support that travelled to see us.

“Our theme was that we owed it to our supporters, with the support they’ve given us, to give them the opportunity to come and see us at home in a quarter-final.

“I think the players, the way they played today, demonstrated the value we place on the support that we get.”