Leinster left reeling by Clermont power
Leinster 21 Clermont 28There was the delicious anticipation of the Leinster crowd and the sense that Clermont’s visit to Dublin was a tumbril ride, the 48,000 crowd like Madame Defarge, their knitted brows and clicking needles looking forward to the spectacle of a French execution.
Leinster, however had their chance last week in the mountains. This week Clermont came prepared and as much as the provincial cognoscenti can point to referee Wayne Barnes letting go three or four infringements under French posts with out warnings, or a scrum that was in the end crushed, or that injury piled on injury, none adequately explained just how Clermont soared so high above everything in the Aviva Stadium.
Across the platforms Clermont took on the European champions, using their strength and pace, their defence and their power to squeeze the life from the home side. For large chunks of the match in both halves Clermont owned the ball and when Leinster conceded penalties, they were in kickable areas and Morgan Parra duly obliged with seven successful punts. In the end the home side was honourably, but well tanned.
Possession, territory, individual commitment, leadership, the kicking of Parra, combined and there were no French weaknesses to pick. There were no psychological or physical flaws to exploit. There were no mad rushes of blood into French heads to offer hope.
Seán O’Brien’s sin-binning hurt Leinster after 51 minutes but even that – combined with all the picky issues at which Leinster may have had a gripe – couldn’t disguise that for long spells, the champions were simply hanging in there. It was a day when the French aristocracy escaped the cutting edge and walked away, not only healthy but with a newly forged and clear sense of worth and big ideas that they could now win this competition.
Leinster did just hang in the match and still just about hang on in the competition, two five point wins against Exeter and the Scarlets and crossed fingers for other results to fall sympathetically in order for them to pick up a second in the pool qualification spot. Even Joe Schmidt was unable to show much enthusiasm for exploring that mathematical model.
The match was also a chase from the beginning for Leo Cullen and his side as Clermont put the ball in Leinster territory and stayed there solidly for the first 10 minutes, man of the match Morgan Parra adding the first three of his points. Leinster drew level, fell back three points, drew level again for 6-6 on 26 minutes and didn’t score another point until seven minutes after half-time for 9-19.