Leinster mistakes prove costly
Leinster's Malcolm O'Kelly tries to jump the tackle from Bourgoin's Julien Frier during Saturday's European Cup match at Stade Pierre Rajon. Photograph: Billy Strickland / Inpho
RUGBY / Heineken Cup / Bourgoin 30 Leinster 28: The outcome was distilled into a single interpretation of the laws of the game. Referee Tony Spreadbury adjudged the Leinster frontrow had driven up or stood up in a scrum 83 minutes into a compelling clash at Stade Pierre Rajon.
It was the definitive plot twist in a narrative that vacillated one way then another.
Spreadbury's ruling may be galling from a Leinster perspective. The scrum in question was 24 metres from their own line and close to the touchline. It was their put-in. There were countless scrums in the match that disintegrated only to be reset.
The English referee ruled that Leinster were guilty, and Bourgoin fullback Alexandre Peclier exacted retribution, posting the penalty to nudge his team to victory.
The Irish province did have one final opportunity as the match entered the 90th minute, when their outstanding captain, Felipe Contepomi, lined up a penalty from 58 metres. He'd have required a howitzer in his right boot and it was no surprise when his well-struck effort dropped a little short.
Gallantry wasn't going to suffice on this occasion as Leinster were forced to accept a single bonus point that keeps their tarnished hopes alive, albeit on a respirator with two games remaining.
Leinster coach Michael Cheika sought out Spreadbury in the aftermath to seek clarification on the penalty ruling. The normally voluble official refused to discuss the matter. Cheika was left to speculate.
"I think it was for standing up. It happens in every scrum in every game. We thought this might happen and it happened. I didn't think it was the right decision. I tried to talk to him after the game but he didn't want to know about me. I suppose that sums it up."
While Leinster demonstrated great character in bridging a 14-point deficit early in the second half, they will rue the errors that undermined a chance to win at a stadium in which Bourgoin have not lost in over 11 months.
They gifted the home side 14 points either side of the interval. On the first occasion Leinster were guilty of playing touch football inside their own 22. Bourgoin flanker Augusto Petrilli intercepted Eric Miller's pass to Shane Horgan; a couple of rucks later and prop Pascal Peyron chose a decent line to rumble under the posts.
Cheika didn't have to articulate his displeasure. "That was not a good piece of play. They know that. I don't have to go and tell them."
The post-interval recklessness entailed pedestrian, lateral handling that culminated in an interception for Bourgoin centre David Venditti, who cantered to the posts.
If those two tries were side- effects of Leinster's adherence to their new patterns then by the same token there should be an acknowledgment that the commitment to keeping the ball in hand and offloading in the tackling underpinned their revival. The difference in application was that in scoring a brace of tries, the visitors managed to inject momentum and got the quick ball they craved.
Trailing 27-13 at that point (45 minutes), Contepomi made another superb break and offloaded to Horgan. The centre was hauled down by the cover metres from the line, Bourgoin centre Jean Francois Coux diving in to kill the ball and prevent a certain try. He was despatched to the sinbin.
During his absence Leinster would rack up 14 points.
Contepomi wriggled out of a couple of tackles to cross for a try, following excellent work by the pack. He could not land the conversion but did so from an even more acute angle on the touchline three minutes later when Rob Kearney dived over in the corner.
When Contepomi landed a superb penalty on 59 minutes the visitors had edged 28-27 in front.
They had coped with being a player down for 20 minutes, punctuated by the interval, as Contepomi (wrestling with Peclier, who was also dispatched) and Miller (intentional knock-on) were dispatched to the sinbin. They also survived some back-foot tackling that ceded momentum to Bourgoin in the contact area and were also caught a couple of times down the blindside.
Bourgoin exploited the fact that the otherwise excellent Kearney dropped deep and managed to go outside the initial Leinster cover. It's not easily apparent whether the defensive system failed the player or vice versa.
There were some brilliant individual performances, not least among the tyros in hooker Brian Blaney, number eight Jamie Heaslip and Kearney. Bryce Williams had his best game for Leinster, so too Will Green, while in the midfield Horgan and Gordon D'Arcy made significant yardage, the latter chipping in with a clever try.
In truth everyone made a contribution, from Reggie Corrigan's abrasiveness in the loose to Girvan Dempsey's try-saving tackle on David Janin and all points in between.
Bourgoin deserve credit for the way they capitalised on Leinster errors. They played on the margins, which provoked a reaction from time to time, and were ruthless in turning opportunities into points.
Cheika admitted: "I think the players played well. We made some mistakes that cost us and that hurts. They took advantage of our mistakes this week whereas they didn't last week. We made a couple of key errors that cost us.
"From a heart point of view and a desire, I can't fault the players. We were 14 points down and a lot of teams would have gone home at that stage . . . To have it taken away from you at the end like that is a bit disappointing.
"I'm definitely not counting us out. There are a lot of points to be fought for and this team will never count itself out."
SCORING SEQUENCE: 7 mins: Janin try, Peclier con 7-0; 20: Contepomi pen 7-3; 21: Boyet drop goal 10-3; 38: D'Arcy try, Kearney con 10-10; 40 (+3): Contepomi pen 10-13; 40 (+5): Peyron try, Peclier con 17-13. Half-time: 17-13. 41: Peclier pen 20-13; 45: Venditti try, Peclier con 27-13; 51: Contepomi try 27-18; 54: Kearney try, Contepomi con 27-25; 59: Contepomi pen 27-28; 82: Peclier pen 30-28.
BOURGOIN: A Peclier; A Forest, D Venditti, JF Coux, D Janin; B Boyet, M Forest (capt); O Milloud, B Cabello, P Peyron; J Pierre, P Pape; J Frier, A Petrilli, W Jooste. Replacements: P Cardinali for Peyron (17-27 mins) and 66 mins; C del Fava for Pape (49 mins); G Davis for Venditti (76 mins); I Giorgadze for Janin (78 mins); A Diotallevi for Del Fava (88 mins); F Montagnat for Frier (89 mins). Sinbinned: A Peclier (31 mins), JF Coux (48 mins).
LEINSTER: G Dempsey; K Lewis, G D'Arcy, S Horgan, R Kearney; F Contepomi (capt), G Easterby; R Corrigan, B Blaney, W Green; B Williams, M O'Kelly; E Miller, K Gleeson, J Heaslip. Replacements: C Jowitt for Miller (62 mins); E Byrne for Corrigan (64 mins). Sinbinned: F Contepomi (31 mins), E Miller (41 mins).
Referee: T Spreadbury (England).