Clermont teach Leinster a harsh lesson
Leinster 21 ASM Clermont Auvergne 28:There comes a moment in the evolution of any great team when they must obliterate their nemesis. For Clermont Auvergne, in Europe, that opponent has long been Leinster.
They simply couldn’t lose this match. They couldn’t take another defeat, not to Leinster. Not after the drubbing two years ago at the Aviva or last season’s semi-final or the losing bonus point coughed up at Stade Marcel Michelin.
The main building block for victory was the most ruthless defence Leinster will encounter this season. There was no way through, not even for a rampaging Seán O’Brien, and certainly not around the white wall.
Clermont lived offside but they did it so cleverly that Jonny Sexton could only punish them with two first-half penalties. If there was a hint of a Leinster try, they flooded every channel, ruthlessly and illegally killing the ball.
Ultimately, it was Clermont’s power that proved the difference. They dominated territory and when Morgan Parra edged them 9-6 ahead, after the brutally efficient Nathan Hines almost squeezed over, you feared for Leinster.
All it would take was one player to slip off a strike runner and the cosmopolitan French side would be away.
That moment came on 34 minutes when All Black winger Sitiveni Sivivatu ploughed past Gordon D’Arcy, freed his hands to ensure Naipolioni Nalaga galloped into space. The cover defence scragged the Fijian monster but the blue line, in tatters now, couldn’t stop Wesley Fofana from muscling over.
Parra nailed a difficult conversion for a 16-6 half-time lead. A 10-point deficit looked insurmountable mainly because Clermont never looked like they would ease off.
It didn’t influence the result, but the pitch needs mentioning. It was in an atrocious state, cutting up after scrums and looking in need of some serious nurturing.
Nor can Leinster point to losing Richardt Strauss early on, after twisting his knee when bear hugged by Hines, as Clermont’s Welsh fullback Lee Byrne also pulled up.
The essential second-half assault from Leinster was immediately diluted when Raphael Chaume cleaved through Mike Ross at scrum-time. Parra duly made it 19-9.
Sexton immediately reduced arrears as Clermont were, again, blatantly offside whenever Leinster entered their 22.
Referee Wayne Barnes ignored the option to go to his pocket.
The Englishman had no option moments later when sin-binning O’Brien for smacking Sivivatu high and early after Parra’s clever quick tap.
Sexton had just missed a long range penalty, Parra did not.