Leinster deprive Castres of losing bonus point in tough encounter

French champions side miss their chance at the RDS

Leinster’s Jack McGrath gets over for a try in the Heineken Cup clash against Castres at the RDS. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster’s Jack McGrath gets over for a try in the Heineken Cup clash against Castres at the RDS. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Leinster 19 Castres Olympique 7: The French champions went home with nothing, a fate they scarcely deserved purely on the basis of clear-cut scoring opportunities. A poor decision or execution, take your pick, by outhalf and captain Remi Tales, when he went for a cross-kick saw them bungle a four-on-one overlap in the Leinster 22 and the television match official denied them on another occasion.

Castres weren’t the better side, it’s just they hung around long enough in a game that the Irish province could never quite get a firm grip on and as a result their visitors continued to harbour hope, long after they should have been buried.

Seán O’Brien had another monumental game, carrying and poaching and it was the Tullow man who made TMO Graham Hughes decided that Pedrie Wannenburg had grounded the ball millimetres short.

Gordon D’Arcy carried well, Seán Cronin -– one or two lineout throws aside – excellent, Jimmy Gopperth took all but one of his chances, and Kevin McLaughlin had a big game, so too Mike McCarthy in the trenches.

Luke Fitzgerald and Jack McGrath made a positive impact off the bench but Leinster continue to lack a little subtlety and precision behind the scrum. Coach Matt O’Connor might be pleased with the result and in denying the visitors a bonus point, but not several aspects of the performance.

The opening 40 minutes offered a reminder, from a Leinster perspective, that when opportunity knocks it’s important to be there to answer the door. They had two or three chances, not gilt edged by any means, but on another day they would have taken them.

Rob Kearney demonstrated neat soccer skills to cushion a cross kick forward and re-gather but despite Devin Toner’s clear-out there wasn’t another blue jersey within a country mile and Castres’ counter-attack was only snuffed out, just outside the Leinster 22, when Isaac Boss, blocked Romain Cabannes’s chip.

It wasn’t a solitary example of a Leinster player breaking the first line but lacking the numerical support to make the breach a definitive one. O’Brien bulldozed his way into the Castres 22 but when hauled down, Castres scrumhalf Rory Kockett was not only able to make the tackle but get up and reclaim possession.

The home side’s speed to the breakdown following line breaks simply wasn’t urgent enough. They also miss-controlled a five metre scrum, the ball popping out the side, that denied them a wonderful attacking platform.

On the credit side of the ledger Gopperth kicked three penalties from four attempts but on 32 minutes they were blindsided literally, when despite getting the nudge on in the scrum, Castres number eight Antonie Claasen and Kockett combined to send the scrumhalf scampering down the touchline for a try. Kockett’s conversion was a second body blow in less than a minute.

D’Arcy managed good yardage for the third time in the half but this time it was an unsympathetic pass from Rob Kearney that scuppered the opportunity.

The French side hardly deserved to be two points down at the interval on the balance of play but in the greater scheme on things, principally, the scoreboard, the facts are there in the figures.

Castres should have scored a try within two minutes of the re-start.

Cabannes clever chip bounced between Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney, the French side got hold of the ball and with a four-on-one overlap, but Tales elected for a chip/cross-kick hybrid and hooked it much to the home side’s relief as the ball ran over dead-ball line.

The visitors had another chance, once again turning Leinster around with a chip in behind, but the home side escaped their own corner, after being fortuitously awarded the put-in to a scrum.

Kockett shoved a 44 metre penalty right and wide as the home side’s lead looked increasingly perilous. Leinster’s play became increasingly ragged, especially communication wise. Twice they turned down kicks at goal in favour of the corner and on both occasions could not protect possession.

Fitzgerald added urgency, O’Brien continued to make line breaks but the decision making remain flawed. Then suddenly amidst the morass of errors, a moment of playing clarity. Eoin Reddan won a turnover, McFadden cut a good line off D’Arcy in the Leinster 22 and Dave Kearney was put away. The wing should have passed to D’Arcy inside, which might have simplified the try-scoring chance, but fortunately 90 seconds later Jack McGrath crashed over the line.

Leinster were never going to do it the simple way. Gopperth added the conversion – Castres had been down to 14 men after centre Remi Lamaret had received a yellow card – and then tagged on a penalty on 68 minutes to nudge Leinster out to a 19-7 lead.

Castres were down to 14 players once again on 70 minutes when replacement scrumhalf Julien Tomas received a yellow card for his second crooked feed to a scrum and his team’s fourth.

The French side weren’t finished and Wannenburg, the former South African-born Ulster flanker, was unlucky not to be awarded a try. O’Brien, who else, was the Leinster body in the way.

Leinster survived, not for the first time in the half. Castres deserved a bonus point but departed with nothing.

Scoring sequence – 2 mins: Gopperth penalty, 3-0; 11: Gopperth penalty, 6-0; 17: Gopperth penalty, 9-0; 32: Kockett try, Kockett conversion, 9-7. Half-time: 9-7. 62: McGrath try, Gopperth conversion, 16-7; 68: Gopperth penalty, 19-7.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Macken, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Gopperth, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Moore; M McCarthy, D Toner; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt). Replacements: E Reddan for Boss (47 mins); L Fitzgerald for Macken (52 mins); J McGrath for Healy (54 mins); Q Roux for McCarthy (54 mins); M Bent for Moore (62 mins); R Ruddock for McLaughlin (68 mins); I Madigan for D’Arcy (68 mins); A Dundon for Cronin (74 mins).

CASTRES OLYMPIQUE: B Dulin; R Martial, R Cabannes, R Lamerat, M Evans: R Tales (capt), R Kockott; M Lazar, B Mach, A Peikrishvili; R Gray, R Capo Ortega; J Bornman, P Wannenburg, A Claassen. Replacements: S Taumoepeau for Lazar (28 mins); G Palis for Evans (28 mins); K Wihongi for Peikrishvili (45 mins); C Samson for Capo Ortega (47 mins); MA Rallier for Mach (47 mins); J Tomas for Kockett (52 mins).

Yellow card: R Lamaret (Castres) 56 mins; J Tomas (Castres) 70 mins.

Referee: Greg Garner (England)

Attendance: 18,540

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