Leinster 29-28 Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Cup, April 9
Leinster hang on for nail-biting win
April 9, 2010
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip powers over for a try
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Two tries from No.8 Jamie Heaslip inspired Leinster to a nail-biting 29-28 victory over Clermont Auvergne in their Heineken Cup quarter-final at the RDS in Dublin.
The defending champions set up a semi-final showdown with either Toulouse or Stade Francais thanks largely to their rampaging No.8 who grabbed two scores in the first half that along with 19 points from the boot of fly-half Jonathan Sexton saw off a determined Clermont side in a pulsating contest. A hat-trick of tries from winger Julien Malzieu failed to keep his side's euro dreams alive with fly-half Brock James contributing three penalties and two conversions but the Australian failed with a simple drop goal attempt in the dying moments that could have won the game.
Clermont powered to an early lead in an all-action opening but Leinster clawed their way back into the game to take a control of the contest and went into the break 20-10 ahead. But their French rivals struck back in the second period to reclaim the lead as the see-saw clash built to a dramatic conclusion. Sexton's boot edged Leinster back in front with time running out but there was still time for Clermont to orchestrate two drop goal attempts but the usually metronomic James failed on both occasions to spark delight amongst the capacity crowd.
All the early pressure came from Clermont with an impressive tempo forcing the hosts onto the back foot. And Les Jaunards' willingness to give the ball some width early on was rewarded with a penalty but James pulled his attempt horribly wide of the posts.
Clermont continued to probe and kept Leinster penned inside their own half by limiting their time and space and they finally breached the defence with the vision of James laying the foundation for the score. A neat chip over the top from the fly-half created the opening and the bounce went their way with Aurelien Rougerie latching onto the ball before feeding Malzieu for the simple score. James cemented his side's lead by slotting the conversion. A careless high tackle from Gordon D'Arcy on Malzieu following the re-start allowed Clermont to turn the screw and a cross kick from James had Leinster in more trouble with fullback Rob Kearney eventually penalised in the tackle. James underlined his class and growing confidence with a superb kick from out wide.
Leinster struggled to get a foot hold in the game and were forced to live off scraps but a strong run from blindside Kevin McLaughlin on a rare foray into the Clermont half led to a penalty that Sexton wasted no time in kicking to get his side back in the game. Spurred on by that success, Leinster found another gear with centre Brian O'Driscoll taking on the Clermont defence before flipping the ball out of the tackle to Heaslip who powered through the tackle of Morgan Parra for a try. Sexton levelled the scores with the conversion with a little help from the post.
James had the chance to restore his side's lead just moments later after Nathan Hines had been penalised for not releasing but the Australian's touch deserted him once again. An off side penalty against Stan Wright gave James the chance to redeem himself but this time he did not have the distance.
An error in judgement from fullback Anthony Floch then gifted Leinster an attacking lineout in the visitors' 22 and the home side capitalised to full effect with McLaughlin driving close before the ball was recycled to Heaslip who barrelled over for his second under the posts. Sexton's conversion gave Leinster some breathing space and it went from bad to worse for Clermont when the Irish international landed a long range penalty as the half drew to a close. Clermont had the chance to reduce the arrears before the break but Parra, having taken over the kicking duties from James, failed to hit the target.
Clermont began the second half as they had started the first and needing the first score to keep the game alive came up trumps with Malzieu grabbing his second try just two minutes after the re-start. The forwards took the game deep into the Leinster half before the ball was worked through the hands of James and then Marius Joubert who found Malzieu and the winger had the pace to beat Shane Horgan into the corner. James was unable to make it a seven-point score from out wide but he found his range a few minutes later with his second penalty to bring his side within two points.
The rollercoaster nature of the game continued with Sexton edging his side further ahead after Clermont lock Jamie Cudmore had been penalised for not releasing the player. James then saw another kick sail agonisingly wide of the posts when his pack had forced a penalty at a scrum. But Leinster's indiscipline ensured he had another opportunity soon after and this time he made no mistake.
A slack piece of defending from Horgan then gifted Clermont the lead with Joubert charging down his clearance allowing Malzieu to scoop up the ball before charging over for his third try that was converted by James.
Back came Leinster with a an impressive string of phases to stretch the Clermont defence before a burst of power and pace from Rob Kearney was halted just short of the line but referee Dave Pearson went to the Television Match Official to confirm that the fullback and his scrum-half Eoin Reddan had failed in their attempts to ground the ball. Play was then taken back to an earlier penalty against Clermont and Sexton's successful kick made it a two-point game once again. Another sweeping move from Leinster was then illegally snuffed out by Floch who saw yellow for his deliberate knock on but Sexton was unable to exact further retribution with the touchline penalty.
Leinster continued to exert the greater pressure as the game entered the final ten minutes and inevitably Sexton was handed another shot at the posts and his fifth penalty gave his side the lead once more.
Clermont valiantly battled back into the game and the forwards dug deep to build a platform for a drop goal attempt for James but he was unable to put the icing on the cake with a nervous looking kick that went wide of the posts. With the clock ticking down, a huge scrum from Clermont earned them the next feed and the forwards then took the ball into the Leinster 22 before James dropped back into the pocket but again his effort sailed wide and the champions lived to fight another day.
Quite simply another classic for the Heineken Cup archives worthy of a final - bring on the rest of the action.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.