LEINSTER FULLBACK ROB KEARNEY hailed the fighting spirit of his team as they came back from a horrendous start to secure a vital Heineken Cup win over Castres.
Leinster’s quarter final hopes looked all but shredded after 25 minutes as they trailed 14-0 at Stade Pierre Antoine. Their scrum was caving in and their high defensive line was getting consistently infiltrated. Jimmy Gopperth stepped up with two well-taken tries and the Blues wrested control in a patient, determined fashion after the break.
Gopperth and Kearney combined for 12 points after the break before Jordi Murphy’s late score in the corner secured a 29-22 triumph and four points that keep Leinster’s Pool 1 destiny very much in their hands.
“After those first 20, 25 minutes, we needed to show a lot of character,” Kearney told Sky Sports. Teams that don’t have that sort of character won’t come back from those 14-0 scores. We knew if we kept building, had confidence in our own ability, kept going through some phases”
We may not be the biggest side in Europe but we will always back our intensity, that if we keep building phases we will break teams down,” he added.
Kearney agreed that Leinster were assisted by having the wind at their backs in the second half but added that ‘we still had to play a huge amount of rugby’. “There were times there that we were playing out of our own 22, to try build phases and score tries,” he said. “When the opportunity was there and we felt there was a sniff to make some ground with ball in hand, we did that too.”
One of the turning points of the match was Kearney’s 42m drop goal, which was book-ended by a trio of Jimmy Gopperth penalties that turned a 17-12 deficit into a 24-17 lead. “I’ve kicked some ugly drop goals and that’s certainly up there,” remarked the fullback, “but they all count.”
Kearney added, “I think the front five made a big effort. This man-of-the-match [award], if it was my decision I wouldn’t be taking it home.”
Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes told Sky that Castres delivered everything he thought they would. “They were massively combative, very physical at the breakdown and a good set-piece,” said Gibbes.
“It took a massive effort from us to score three tries and we almost sniffed out an opportunity for a fourth at the end. To come to a place like this against a well-organised team that haven’t given up a lot of tries at home, it’s a satisfying result and puts a spring in our step for next week.”
Gibbes conceded that Leinster’s start was ‘not ideal’ but argued that the French side got their tries through defensive lapses rather than any creative spark. His stance underplays the role Castres centre Remi Lamerat, who scored his side’s consolation try, had in lacerating the Leinster backline for the Richie Gray and Brice Dulin scores.
The Kiwi added, “We just felt if we were able to get a little bit of a foothold with possession, particularly at set-piece, that we may be able to put pressure on them later on… and it took quite a long time to do that.
“I thought the boys’ resilience and energy and their commitment to keep getting up and running into these big fellas here was first class.”
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >