LEINSTER TOOK ON Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin and a 50-game unbeaten run was the French side’s comfort blanket.
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Clermont 15-12 Leinster
14.48 – Cue the Billy Joel ‘We didn’t start the fire music’ … Joe Schmidt, Nathan Hines, Isa’s running nifty lines. Top 14, Pro12, three cups on the shelf. Jonny Sexton, Brock James, poor Reddan can’t get a game!
14.49 – The wonderful Sean Farrell has compiled some of the best moments from Leinster’s past battles with Clermont:
14.53 – This has to be the pick of the bunch – the final five minutes against Clermont in last season’s semi-final [and Cian Healy's try]. I was liveblogging at the time and the tension was close to unbearable:
YouTube credit: Blacklion1192
14.59 – Three minutes until kick-off. Here are the two matchday squads that will be leathering into each other today.
Leinster: I Madigan; F McFadden, G D’Arcy, A Goodman, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), D Browne; K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: R Strauss, J McGrath, M Bent, D Toner, S Jennings, E Reddan, F Carr, A Conway.
Clermont: L Byrne; S Sivivatu, A Rougerie (capt), W Fofana, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra; V Debaty, B Kayser, D Zirakashvili; J Cudmore, N Hines; J Bonnaire, A Lapandry, D Chouly.
Replacements: T Paulo, R Chaume, D Kotze, J Pierre, J Bardy, L Radosavljevic, D Skrela, R King.
15.01 – Montpellier, who drew with Leinster at home last season, have defeated Cardiff Blues 35-24.
Big game for Gordon D’Arcy and Andrew Goodman in the centre for Leinster. You can read more about the duo here.
15.03 – Kick-off. Clermont retain possession and are on the attack.
15.04 – Leinster penalised for an early put-in to the scrum and Clermont choose to rest the packs and have a shunt themselves inside the visitor’s 22.
15.06 – Mike Ross gets whistled at that scrum and Morgan Parra steps up with a simple kick and it is Clermont 3-0 Leinster
15.09 – Madigan and O’Brien hare upfield before Sexton takes a pass on the charge. Clermont slow things down but not to the ref’s satisfaction and the Leinster out-half has a chance to level things up and he does. Clermont 3-3 Leinster as Sexton converts. Booing from the less than sporting French supporters.
15.13 – More scrum antics and Nigel Owens tries to settle affairs down. It is reset and Clermont retain. The ball comes to McFadden but his clearing kick can’t find touch and Damien Browne gets battered in the tackle. Leinster snatch the ball back.
15.15 – Clermont concede a penalty for a lineout infringement and Sexton with another opportunity to kick for the posts. 38 metres out and the kick is not perfect, hurtling right and wide.
15.21 – Parra will have another penalty gimme as Clermont thunder forward through Fofana and Leinster go off their feet to slow them down. Six metres in from the touchline, on the Leinster 22, and over it goes. Clermont 6-3 Leinster
15.26 – Leinster looking to hold firm in the face of some blistering Clermont moves but it is not enough as Parra adds penalty number three. The scoreline is now Clermont 9-3 Leinster after 23 minutes. The restart is claimed by the Frenchmen.
15.28 – Nice play from Heaslip and Goodman to hold up Fofana and win a scrum. Leinster on the attack now inside the Clermont half. ‘Hank’ is not enjoying Isaac Boss and his box kicks:
15.30 – Big kick coming up here for Leinster as a rolling maul is pulled down. Sexton with the penalty, just outside the Clermont 22 and to the right of the posts. Gets it and it is Clermont 9-6 Leinster as Owens lectures the successful Sexton for taking too long with his kick.
15.34 – Great pressure here from Leinster as they drive to within 10 metres of the Clermont tryline. Sarcastic back pats as Jamie Cudmore concedes a penalty right in front of the posts.
15.38 – Sexton chips it over and Leinster are deservedly level. Clermont 9-9 Leinster after 33 minutes. Advantage Clermont from the restart and Owens calls it back. Julien Bonnaire leaves McFadden on the turf. Owens threatens yellow cards for the concession of further penalties. Browne conceded that penalty after Sivivatu bulldozed Nacewa. Parra gets it – Clermont 12-9 Leinster
15.42 – Psyche! Aurelien Rougerie jumps straight at Jonny Sexton after a Brock James kick comes back to earth. Sexton knocks on and Clermont get the scrum. Crucial phase as just a minute remains in the half.
15.44 – The set-up for the drop goal is on as Parra feeds James. No pressure put on the Australian and he sends it over the bar to end the half. Clermont 15-9 Leinster and it is HALF-TIME
15.49 – What is the mood like at half-time – Can Leinster come back from six points down to make it four Irish wins from four games.
15.53 – Leinster put in a decent showing there but will be upset about conceding six points in the last five minutes of the half. Nigel Owens is only too happy to whistle away but the two teams are pulling out all the stops – legally and illegally – to stop their opponents from scoring tries.
Remember though, Leinster trailed 12-6 at half-time last season before Sexton, Healy and Kearney combined to give the blues a 19-15 win.
16.00 – Kick-off – We are back and Leinster win an early lineout and maul forward near the Clermont 22.
16.02 – Remember the crossfield kick that did for Scarlets’ George North in October? Well Sexton tries to repeat the dose. Lee Byrne comes out on top as he claims the high ball. He marks it and sends it back with extra sauce up the line. Leinster steal the lineout though and McFadden’s kick pins Clermont back in their 22.
16.04 – Madigan knocks on a D’Arcy pass to scupper a flowing backline move full of inside passes. Penetration and straight-up running [Brian O'Driscoll?] are missing from the party piece moves however.
16.07 – 44% of you say Leinster have ‘no chance’ of beating Clermont at this stage as Sivivatu is penalised for a forward pass to Parra. 47 minutes gone – Leinster scrum.
Leinster give up a penalty kick to throw the dice on a crossfield kick to McFadden. It was always an ambitious gambit and it has failed. Take your points Jonny!
16.14 – Richardt Strauss is on for Cronin and Andrew Conway may be on for McFadden soon – he was injured in that crossfield kick that might be referred to a ‘Sexton’s folly’ if this game is lost.
Hold the phone though – Ross, Strauss and Healy have monstered Debaty and the Clermont pack. Clear penalty and Sexton is going for the posts here. 35 metres out.
16.15 – Sweets as you like and it is Clermont 15-12 Leinster after 53 minutes. Debaty gets hauled off for Chaume for the crime of giving up that penalty.
McLaughlin holds up his man to earn a scrum. Leinster secure and clear (’56)
16.19 – Fofana [knife] goes through D’Arcy [butter] in midfield before Nacewa bundles Sivivatu out of play. Lee Byrne, who has had an excellent game so far, with a poor pass to cause a Clermont knock-on.
16.22 – Strauss with a poor lineou but Healy, I’m 90% sure, steals the ball back. Leinster now have an attacking lineout 5m out from the Clermont line as Byrne is forced to hack a grubber out of play. Strauss – again[!] – with a bad throw and the chance is lost.
What’s a sports-loving lady to do?
16.26 – Fofana on the charge but he just fails to link up with Lapandry. Mike Ross is then given some treatment after looking to be in some discomfort.
16.31 – Jennings and Reddan replace O’Brien and Boss respectively. 15 minutes to to as Cullen claims a lineout. Heaslip and McFadden rumble Nalaga out of play to win another and Cullen claims again. Play on the Clermont 10-metre line but Rougerie with a huge tackle on Sexton. Madigan saves the day with a lovely kick into the corner.
16.33 – Apologies, the super kick came from Reddan. Clermont survive again as they win the lineout and Leinster are offside. 13 minutes remain.
Lineout not straight and Cullen calls for the scrum. They rock forward again and Reddan picks and goes from the back of the pack. All Leinster at the moment – some magic needed. Where’s Isa?
16.40 – Nigel Owens very generous by refusing to give the visitors a penalty for constant Clermont offsides. Ross knocks on and another promising position is spurned. If Clermont can get another penalty they will be confident of keeping a Leinster try out.
Massive error by Morgan Parra there as he kicks the ball away from Madigan to deny Leinster a quick lineout. McFadden had defended well just before to pull Nalaga out of play. Another woeful lineout – Strauss to Toner – goes awry and Reddan is snatched up. Clermont scrum.
16.42 – Sexton and Jennings win Leinster a crucial penalty in their own half. Sexton finds touch inside the Clermont 22. Perfect platform for attack. They NEED to win this lineout.
16.45 – They bloody well don’t. Strauss overthrows again. What a disaster. Sivivatu and Byrne break out but a knock-on gives Leinster the scrum. Play on the halfway now with two minutes to play. But another knock-on scuttles that drive. Clermont have a scrum that Leinster need to win.
16.48 – 30 seconds to play and Clermont have the ball up the jumper. Nalaga bursts up the left-hand side and a penalty is conceded. Losing bonus point on the line now. Is there time for a lineout? No, says Owens.
Clermont win but they are not celebrating. They wanted that last chance for a try. Bonus point defeat for Leinster. FULL-TIME
Just a scratch ref says Jennings. (Sky Sports screengrab)
16.58 – Sexton’s decision to kick crossfield for McFadden, rather than go for the posts, will now be debated as Leinster lost by three points. Kevin McLaughlin received lengthy treatment after the final whistle.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt will be hoping that most of his troops can make it onto the training paddock on Tuesday morning ahead of another big game at the Aviva next Saturday. Cheers for the company.