Friday, April 09, 2010

Leinster-29 Clermont-28



Toulouse were impressive in dispensing with Les Pinks but although they’ll have home advantage in their semifinal there’s one thing to consider…since fulltime in the RDS last October 9, the Heineken Cup Gods have been smiling like crazy on Leinster rugby.

First we had the Scarlets playing like champs against London Irish and like chumps against us to help us back into contention in Pool Six. Then we had Chris Malone missing simple place kicks left right and centre at Twickenham as we scraped a home quarterfinal with an 11-11 draw.

But last Friday night Leinster dodged an exocet missile as visiting Clermont-Auvergne, ten times Top14 bridesmaids and never the bride, left almost as many points on the pitch as they put on the scoreboard, with Aussie outhalf Brock James the principal culprit.

Whatever about our defensive prowess, if there was a team in this competition that was going to put it through the ringer then it was a side not only leading try-scorers in the Top14 but also the pool stages of the Heineken Cup. And when they raced into a 10-0 lead it was clear to all at the RDS, not just the incredible visiting support, that Cheika’s men had it all to play for.

But even though we were double digits behind, I was comforted by one thing. We hadn’t so much as played in their half yet. Sure, they pinpointed a weakness in the recuperated Shane Horgan on our wing, but how would they stand up when we in turn applied the pressure?

It wasn’t long before we had our answer. Before you could say “sacre-bleu!” Jamie Heaslip had gone over for two tries, the first thanks to the customary BOD wizardry the second thanks to his pack, and at halftime there had been an incredible turnaround and we were 20-10 ahead.

Oh, and it appears a certain Jonny10 has more than a touch of his mojo back. To put it simply, every time we pressed their line, we troubled the scorers somehow .

But the visitors were determined to stick to their game plan in pinning us down in our own half and they were doing it well. Two more tries from winger Malzieu showed up Shaggy’s bad night at the office, and although Brock was doing his bit to help keep his team going forward, when it came to using the kicking tee he just wasn’t producing the goods when it mattered.

Which begs this question. When a man who scored almost half of France’s Grand Slam winning points is on the park, why let anyone else take a kick? Sure, Parra did go 0/1 himself on the night but still, though I’m not as au fait on the week-in week-out nature of French rugby, I still find it baffling.

Even more baffling was the Clermont pack’s decision to take the ball an extra phase a few metres to the right before James failed at his second game-winning drop goal attempt. And fail he did, although from our seats, which would normally be considered very good, we had no idea if it had gone over and we were afraid to cheer for more than a minute until we saw some Leinster players’ hands go up in celebration.

And when the result was confirmed, all that was left for me to do was to send a tweet which read “Out. Of. Jail.” before heading to Searsons for some celebratory beverages, passing the stunned/dejected Clermont fans on the way. Fair play to all of them for their contribution to what was hands down the best atmosphere the RDS has ever seen.

Now the nail-biting win didn’t come without some cost. Sexton broke his jaw and Rob Kearney, who was my man of the match ahead of the lazily-selected Sky choice of Heaslip, went over on his ankle. Hopefully both will have enough time to recover for the semifinal.

As for that match on May 1st, well we may be underdogs on paper, but be in no doubt whatsoever…Toulouse will know what to expect from a visiting Leinster side and will take nothing for granted.

Congrats as well, of course, to both Munster and Connacht for completing yet ANOTHER Irish faux Triple Crown this weekend (see previous post).

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