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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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Evening all. Welcome along to the beginning of the end of the Champions Cup pool stage.

Leinster are in Castres tonight hoping to seal a big quarter-final day in the Aviva Stadium  and a bonus point would do absolutely no harm either.

Lob in your predictions, worries and dream quarter-final opposition. Kick off is not until 19.45 after all.

Here are the teams for tonight’s match. The hosts have held some big names back, but there’s still plenty of powerful men in that side.

Castres Olympique

15. Pierre Berard; 14. Julien Caminati, 13. Afusipa Taumoepeau, 12. Florian Vialelle, 11. David Smith; 10. Julien Dumora, 9. Antoine Dupont

1. Antoine Tichit, 2. Brice Mach, 3. Daniel Kotze, 4. Victor Moreaux, 5. Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 6. Yannick Caballero, 7. Alexandre Bias, 8. Steve Mafi.

16. Jody Jenneker, 17. Mihaita Lazar, 18. Damien Tussac, 19. Loic Jacquet, 20. Anthony Jelonch, 21. Julien Seron, 22. Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23. Thomas Combezou

Leinster Rugby

15. Isa Nacewa; 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Rory O’Loughlin; 10. Johnny Sexton, 9. Luke McGrath;

1. Cian Healy, 2. Richardt Strauss, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Ross Molony, 5. Devin Toner, 6. Jack Conan, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jamie Heaslip

16. James Tracy, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Michael Bent, 19. Mike McCarthy, 20. Dan Leavy, 21. Jamison Gibson-Park, 22. Ross Byrne, 23. Rob Kearney

We’re almost ready to go at Stade Pierre Antoine and the journalists there seem to represent a sizeable chunk of the crowd.

A very sparsely populated stadium to work in tonight.

KICK-OFF:   Sexton gets us underway.

JVDF lets a ball slip in midfield and we go for the game’s first scrum. It’s a solid, even contest and Castres have to play down the right.

2Mins

Castres go wide wide nicely and once they spill out on the left, the TMO is back for a check on a Nacewa tackle on Caminati.

He give him a right rattle, but nothing worth penalising.

5Mins

Solid start for the Castres D too. Leinster having to probe from side to side, even Henshaw resisting the urge to seek contact and darting laterally, before Nacewa grubbers through to seek the 22.

7Mins

A much better base to attack from and more meaningful carries from Leinster. Big forwards, fast feet and yards accruing slowly but surely until a penalty arrives.

9Mins

PENALTY!  Castres 0 Leinster 3 (Sexton ’8)

10Mins

TRY! Castres 0 Leinster 8 (Henshaw ’10)

Flag 12Mins

A messy build-up, but a sensational finish from Big Bob Henshaw!

Ringrose looks for an offload, but it’s batted to ground by a Castres hand before Henshaw picks up the pill, hears no whistle and opens his stride right up and cuts an angle across the width of the field to ensure nobody can catch him.

Sexton nails the conversion too.

Castres 0 Leinster 10

15Mins

While we marvel at some more side-stepping magic from Ringrose, news from Montpellier where Montpellier have opened the scoring against Saints thanks to a sublime barge and offload from Nadolo to Galletier.

That result does not affect Leinster in the slightest of course. They’ve the hard work done.

17Mins

Handling errors never far away from Leinster so far here. A drop from Devin Toner forced them back into their 22, and trying to play out a pass to Sexton was left short and forced them to kick possession hastily back.

19Mins

Off a line-out, Sexton chips over the top from his 22. JVDF gets to the ball first, but it just won’t sit up and he runs past it. Leinster concede the penalty off the resulting ruck.

Flag 21Mins

TRY! Castres 5 Leinster 10 ( Anton Dupoint ’21)

Yikes a big shot up out of the line from Sexton invites Castres in.

21Mins

Sexton raced up to make a hit and barely made an impact. Castres got round the corner easily as a result and the scrum-half sniped through the bodies a phase later.

Castres 7 Leinster 10 

23Mins

Out of nothing, Rory O’Loughlin goes close to a try, but he’s denied by a sliding tackle.

The referee and TMO call it legal, saying the wing wasn’t in possession. But that feels completely against the spirit of the law. Slide tackles on hands shouldn’t be permitted if you ask me.

25Mins

In between the Castres try and the denied O’Loughlin effort, Ross Byrne came on to replace Sexton.

Sky commentary are calling the issue a tight calf for the Ireland 10, giving him the benefit of a doubt: that could explain the poor non-tackle in the lead-up to the try.

25Mins

Here’s a view of Robbie Henshaw’s score. Great to see the Athlone man at full pace.

Robbie Henshaw scores his side's first try despite Julien Dumora Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Flag 30Mins

On top of mis-handles, missed tackles are now racking up for Leinster.

David Smith picks out the second rows and carves his way right through them at the heart of the yellow wall. Luke McGrath was covering and Smith stepped him beautifully offloading to Dupont.

Leinster forced to concede a penalty which Dumora slots over.

PENALTY! Castres 10 Leinster 10 (Dumora ’30)

33Mins

Well, well, well. Castres are carving through Leinster in this first half. Vialelle gets a big hand to Ringrose to make yards beyond the young centre and his break makes it an easy conversion for David Smith bursting onto the ball on the left touchline.

Castres 17 Leinster 10

38Mins

Excellent response from Leinster!

Jack Conan bursts through the middle and it takes Dupont to stop him from powering to the try-line. Ross Byrne has warmed to the game nicely and he engineers the opening on the right flank, but his second touch in the move puts the ball just too low for JVDF to get a firm hand on and he’s stripped.

It’s turning in to a frustrating night for Leinster now and it shows in captain Jamie Heaslip’s body language - Nacewa has hobbled off for the second week running with Kearney on at fullback and Henshaw was gingerly testing his leg at one point too.

Ross Byrne takes aim at a long-range penalty at the close of the half, misses and Leo Cullen will be happy to get his team in the changing rooms to regroup.

HALF-TIME: Castres 17 Leinster 10

40Mins

We’re back up and running for the second half. Can Leinster haul their way back on top in this game?

Excellent from Ringrose (up to a point). The young centre gets low and has his shimmy game going, cuts inside the defence.

He has McGrath on his shoulder, but he adds just one dummy too much and the pass flies out of the scrum-half’s reach.

43Mins

TRY! Castres 17 Leinster 17 (Henshaw ’43)

Excellent set move from Leinster. Adam Byrne takes the reverse ball and blazes a trail towards the posts. He’s caught, but still gets a pass away to Henshaw who has the power needed to bully his way over the try-line next to the posts.

Byrne slots the conversion.

Castres do a good job of stopping Leinster any easy momentum, they respond by going through an extended set of sapping phases.

The yellow jerseys having to dig deep to repel this…

Flag 54Mins

TRY! Castres 24 Leinster 17 (Smith ’54)

Oof! Spoke just too soon. David Smith injected some pace into the pick and drives, spotted there’s no pillar on a ruck in front of the posts and he dives in at the post.

55Mins

Over 20 minutes to go still, but as things stand Leinster are top seed, but very very catchable by all four  of the other pool winners.

Battles are being lost all over the park, but they still have it in them to create.

59Mins

Excellent attack from right to left with Henshaw and Ringrose again at the heart of things before a penalty comes in the Castres 22. Byrne kicks for touch.

Jack Conan, it must be said, is another man having a big game against the tide.

60Mins

The maul is good, but pulled down. Leinster try to use the advantage, but again the play is killed just when it’s close to bearing fruit. O’Loughlin drops Byrne’s pass just as he nears the gap in the defence in front of the posts.

61Mins

Oh no.

James Tracy’s throw is stolen at the five-metre line-out and Leinster have to start all over again.

61Mins

YELLOW CARD!  Berard

62Mins

Great attack from Leinster. Adam Byrne making the break on the left, before the visitors add power with Conan and Jack McGrath before the fullback comes in and kills the ball.

Chance for Leinster to take control of this game against 14.

64Mins

Vital breakthrough! It’s not a fluid move off the scrum, but Leavy provides the muscle and barges over for Leinster’s third try.

And Ross Byrne boots over a brilliant conversion to tie this game right up.

Castres 24 Leinster 24

68Mins

Unfortunately, it’s back to the same pattern. Castres win a penalty and determined to own the ball in the wake of Leinster’s try. Makes perfect sense for the 14 men, mentally and physically sapping for Leinster.

69Mins

CHANCE! A knock-on in the Leinster 22 allows them to break away with Adam Byrne. He chips ahead, but the ball just won’t sit up for Ringrose as he dips to collect.

Kearney is next on the scene but Vialelle is on hand to strip him of the ball.

72Mins

The game just can’t rise above the scrap at the minute. Castres knock forward in their own third. Gibson-Park tries to divert traffic wide, but the wide ruck can’t recycle the ball and concedes a penalty.

That’ll bring us to the end of the sin-bin period.

76Mins

Relentless pressure from Castres now they’re back to 15. Mauling towards the Leinster line. They look to have crashed over, but just thwarted and Devin Toner slows them right down after the ball pops out the back of a ruck.

77Mins

They come all the way back for a penalty on the maul. Castres go to the line-out again.

They’ve had a warning, but it’s not heeded by Mike McCarthy. He heads to the bin for Leinster’s latest penalties.

Yellow Card: McCarthy

78Mins

Castres’ maul can’t override the absolute mess and Leinster force a scrum on their own five.

There’s just about enough time for them to force a route upfield.

80Mins

Penalty.

Leinster win the scrum and Ross Byrne has a chance to pump his team upfield. HIs kick goes just outside the 22.

Hold tight.

The line-out is scrappy again. Jamison Gibson-Park decides two points is enough and kicks the ball out.

FULL-TIME: Castres 24 Leinster 24 

So, where does that leave us?

Leinster win the pool, we knew that.

They’re currently top seeds and mathematically within the reach of all four pool-toppers, but that includes Connacht. It would take a bonus point win from the Westerners (and a very, very big one at that) to oust Leinster from a home quarter-final berth now.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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