Leinster still standing at end of a madcap rollercoaster of a game
Leinster first away team in over a year to beat the French champions in their lair
Jordi Murphy scores Leinster’s third try during yesterday’s Heineken Cup, clash against Castres at Stade Pierre Antoine. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE 22 LEINSTER 29: By hook or by crook, Leinster were not only still standing at the end of a madcap rollercoaster of a game, but to the fury of home team and baying crowd alike had become the first away team in over a year to beat the reigning French champions in their Stade Pierre Antoine lair.
The performance was not without its blemishes but after being 14-0 behind Leinster’s determination and fitness levels also shone through, as did their rope-a-dope opportunism for they scored three tries at a ground where Castres had only conceded four all season. The respective benches also had a profound effect on the outcome, with Cian Healy (only included in the replacements bench on the day) especially and Shane Jennings making huge impacts whereas although Daniel Kirkpatrick added even more potency to their 10-12-13 axis, Castres’ served to dilute their scrum.
Leinster hardly had a set-piece platform to speak of in the first-half particularly, with their non-striking scrum thrice beaten on their own put-in. Their back-row chronically missed Sean O’Brien, with Kevin McLaughlin struggling in his first game since November and Jordi Murphy displaying a tendency to tackle too upright, while their lateral running missed the straight running of O’Brien and, until his introduction, Healy.
Even Jamie Heaslip had his tackling mishaps, while centres Seremaia Bai and Remi Lamerat made regular inroads into a porous defence which persistently shot up quickly but left too many gaps or soft inside shoulders. Yet they scrambled superbly, and despite living off scraps were brought to life at timely intervals by the excellent Eoin Reddan and Jimmy Gopperth, who contributed two opportunist and priceless tries in his 21-point haul.
Leinster would have identified the need for an accurate start and thereby subdue home team and crowd alike as much as possible. They failed miserably. Forcing a few turnovers in defence was all they could cling to, but even when there weren’t gaps and missed tackles, they weren’t preventing offloads. Setting the tone for a storming first-half eight minutes in, Ibrahim Diarra freed his hands in a tackle by Jordi Murphy to release Remi Lamerat on his inside and he in turn beat five Leinster players, stepping Rob Kearney and Heaslip a mite too easily and bouncing Jimmy Gopperth before eventually being hauled down short of the line by Dave Kearney. But they had no hope from the recycle as Bai’s long pass put Richie Gray over. Gedric Garcia, yet another goalkicking scrum-half – indeed their third choice kicker and third choice scrum-half – converted.
Brought to life
Reddan finally brought Leinster to life with a dummy and snipe from the base of a ruck, and Sean Cronin was very nearly in with a strong burst from Heaslip’s offload but was brought down by Bruce Dulin. Instead Diarra pilfered a steal which looked illegal and when Castres went downfield Bai bounced Brian O’Driscoll, and with Dave Kearney sucked in, freed Remi Grosso up the line and to put the supporting Dulin over. Garcia converted to make it 14-0.
When Grosso chased Garcia’s box kick too early for Leinster’s first penalty of the half it proved pivotal. Rob Kearney pushed them up the line and although their initial maul was well defended, if illegally so, back Leinster went to the corner and again Cronin threw to Toner as they worked the maul infield.