Defeat puts Leinster under immense pressure
HEINEKEN CUP:Leinster seriously threatened to complete an historic Heineken Cup four-timer for the Irish provinces yesterday, and there was no shame in seeing their 17-game unbeaten run come to an end in Stade Marcel Michelin, where Clermont are now unbeaten in 51 matches. But regrets, they’ll have a few.
Despite something of an injury-enforced, patchwork backline, Leinster were braveness personified in matching Clermont blow for blow in what was another compelling duel between these two heavyweights. As the match developed Leinster generated many kicks at goal as their scrum became more dominant. But unfortunately their lineout creaked which denied them two hard-earned attacking platforms in the final quarter.
Clermont sold the record 17,760 attendance in an hour, such was the interest. All associated with the club had targeted this game from the outset of the season and such is the respect between opposing fans that a home banner welcomed the 800 or so Leinster faithful: “Failte go dti ar gcairde na hEireann.”
The result leaves Clermont with a five-point leeway in pool five. And unless Leinster record a bonus-point win in the Aviva rematch next Saturday, the French side will retain a slight lead going into the last two matches in January. The pressure on the back-to-back champions to win next Saturday is immense.
Nor, it has to be said, will Leinster be alone in having regrets. Munster will rue letting Saracens in for a late bonus point at Thomond Park on Saturday prior to next Sunday’s rematch at Vicarage Road. Ulster’s delight in achieving their bonus point win away to Northampton will have been tempered by the news that captain Johann Muller suffered a broken arm. He will be sidelined for eight weeks.
“Devastated to be honest,” said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and despite exchanging pleasantries with so many familiar faces, he looked it.
“You can’t put that much energy and effort into the game and create the opportunities that we did . . . It is incredibly disappointing. It’s going to be tough to try and forge ahead for next week. We need to get ourselves up. We’ve a fair few bruised bodies in there. It was fairly combative stuff at times, not always on the ball. It’s what you expect. It’s pretty tough going.”
Schmidt had ventured during the week that 21 points might be enough to qualify, albeit as one of the two best runners-up, and that would be attained with three wins, regardless of bonus points. In that regard, Connacht beating Biarritz could be a considerable help to Leinster as well as Eric Elwood’s team.