Gopperth guides Leinster to victory in Castres
Outhalf scores 21 points as Matt O’Connor’s side recovers from 14-point deficit in France
Leinster’s Jordi Murphy scores their third try against Castres. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Jimmy Gopperth scored two tries and 21 points for Leinster. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Brian O’Driscoll under pressure at the Stade Pierre-Antoinne. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Brian O’Driscoll in a tangle during the win over Castres at the Stade Pierre-Antoine. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Back in action: Cian Healy made his return from injury against Castres. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Castres Olympique 22 Leinster 29
Leinster came from 14 points down to Castres Olympique to record a seven-point win at the Stade Pierre-Antoine and stay in control of the Pool One of the Heineken Cup on Sunday.
Jimmy Gopperth justified his selection by scoring 21 points, including Leinster’s opening two tries to get the comeback underway, while Jordi Murphy added a third in a second half that saw Ireland prop Cian Healy make a surprise return from injury off the bench.
The result leaves Leinster on 17 points, four clear of Northampton, who beat Ospreys 29-17 at Liberty Stadium. Leinster’s final game will be against Welsh region next week, while the Saints will host Castres.
That makes Matt O’Connor’s side strong favourites to go through but unlike their provincial rivals Munster and Ulser, they cannot count on a quarter-final berth just yet.
Having lost at home to Northampton in the previous round, Leinster needed to bounce back in order to keep hold of top spot and remain on course for the quarter-finals. Castres were missing some notable names through injury — top-scoring scrumhalf Rory Kockott and backrowers Pedrie Wannenburg and Antonie Claassen chief among them — but they got off to a very strong start.
Flanker Ibrahim Diarra got his hands free to send centre Remi Lamerat weaving through some lacklustre Leinster challenges. He was brought down in sight of the posts, before Seremaia Bai’s long pass put the waiting Richie Gray over in the left corner. Television match official Derek Bevan confirmed the score which Cedric Garcia crisply converted. The excellent Diarra then forced another turnover near halfway from which the French side sprung winger Remi Grosso into space on the left and with Rob Kearney drawn in, he passed inside for Brice Dulin to finish off their second try.
Garcia’s conversion left Leinster 14-0 adrift and with considerable ground to make up. Their forwards took up the baton, with Jordi Murphy held up short from a lineout maul. From the resulting scrum, the Castres defence was caught off guard as Eoin Reddan passed for his halfback partner Gopperth to score by the posts, with the New Zealander also converting.
Goal-kicking scrumhalf Garcia was on target in the 39th minute but the visitors — aided by a fine Luke Fitzgerald run — got a timely boost when Gopperth shrugged off two tackles and stretched over under pressure from Gray to claim his second try.
Leinster won a central penalty for some needless stamping by Garcia when play resumed and the successful kick from Gopperth made it a two-point game. Reddan soon sniped through on a break which led to a long-range drop goal from fullback Rob Kearney, moving Leinster ahead for the first time, and Castres coughed up another penalty which Gopperth nudged home.
Leinster were suddenly 24-17 ahead when a 63rd-minute carry from replacement prop Healy — a late inclusion on the bench after an incredibly quick recovery from ankle surgery — set up Gopperth’s third penalty goal. The Castres pack battered away in the Leinster 22 but the visitors, following a spell of desperate defending, countered for a brilliant third try.
Healy cut inside two tackles near the Castres 22 and passed for Murphy to dive over in the right corner in the 77th minute.
Although the win was now beyond them, Castres’ persistence was rewarded in the dying seconds when Lamerat scrambled over from a close-in ruck.