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DJ Carey and a wheelchair: Leinster’s first European Cup win in France was eventful

12 years ago, Leinster achieved an important European milestone.

Denis Hickie celebrates his winning try in style.
Denis Hickie celebrates his winning try in style.
Image: INPHO

IF IT WASN’T mission impossible, then it was at least mission highly unlikely. Leinster play in Castres today confident of another win in France but back in the autumn of 2002, Leinster had never tasted victory in a European Cup match on French soil.

Leinster travelled to the Stade Marcel Michelin to take on Clermont (then known as Montferrand) in the 2002/03 season trying to improve on their two opening pool wins. This wasn’t the star-studded champagne rugby playing Clermont side of today – they finished ninth in the French League that year – but they still boasted some notable internationals like Gerald Merceron, Olivier Magne and Richard Cockerill.

Leinster no 8 Victor Costello remembers the atmosphere well, and also recalls the passion Clermont played with to avoid the stigma of being the first French club to lose at home to Leinster in the Heineken Cup.

“When you are travelling to a place where you haven’t won before – the other team is well-versed in that and they don’t want to be the one that loses for the first time,” Costello said.

“The French crowd are really loud before the game but you have a chance to shut them up. The louder the they are the beginning, the quieter they can go at the end.”

Leinster did a great job of quietening the partisan home crowd that day. At that stage of their careers, Gordon D’Arcy was on the wing while Shane Horgan partnered Brian O’Driscoll at centre, but that didn’t stop Leinster’s backline from producing the goods in France.

It was D’Arcy who scored Leinster’s first try but he was almost crippled by French international David Bory in the process after the wing collided with him in the act of scoring. Bory wasn’t punished for the incident, which, without turning into Clive Woodward on the 2005 Lions Tour, looks pretty bad in these photos.

Gordon D'Arcy DIGITAL Source: INPHO

Gordon D'Arcy DIGITAL Source: INPHO

“Gordon went over for a great try and got a bad knee in the back,” Costello said.

“He had to come back in a wheelchair and there was nothing done about it. Obviously we were really happy with the result but it was offset about what happened to Gordon.”

In the build-up to the game, Leinster coach Matt Williams had decided to bring legendary Kilkenny hurler DJ Carey in to talk to the players. Unusually, Carey was present with squad for the entire Clermont trip – from the dressing room to the team bus.

“DJ is the legend that he is and he gave an entertaining speech that was hugely beneficial,” Costello said.

“He was with us for the whole time, and did he have an input in our win? Absolutely. He was great at the back of the bus as well. We had stories and he had stories.”

Leinster were 20-16 down as the clock turned to 80 but Denis Hickie found himself one-on-one with Sebastian Bozzi and was able to bamboozle the poor prop to touch down in the corner. Scrum-half Brian O’Meara kicked the conversion and Leinster had finally gotten that coveted win in France.

Matt Williams DIGITAL Matt Williams celebrates at the final whistle at the Stade Marcel Michelin. Source: INPHO

“We were breaking moulds around that time anyway because we had won the Celtic League the year before,” Costello said.

“If a win like the Clermont one happened in 1997 or ’98 it would have made your season but by 2002 that was unacceptable. A win away in France wasn’t any good unless you could do the job in the rest of the pool.”

Leinster did do the job in the rest of the pool, starting with the return Clermont fixture the following week in Donnybrook. It was a tense Friday night affair at the ground, highlighted by the fact the D’Arcy’s maimer David Bory was heckled mercilessly every time he touched the ball. Ultimately, four Brian O’Meara penalties were enough to see Leinster home 12-9.

They went on to reach the semi-final of the Heineken Cup that year before being upset at home to Perpignan.

“You saw how angry they were about the loss at home by what happened to Gordon and how they responded the following week in Donnybrook,” Costello said.

“It is really hard to play away in France but they were actually tougher the following week in Donnybrook. Those back-to-back games were the toughest two weeks of the season.”

AS MONTFERRAND

15. Sebastian Viars

14. Jimmy Marlu

13. Johnny Ngauamo

12. Raphael Chanal

11. David Bory

10. Gerald Merceron

9. Gregory Sudre

1. Sebastien Bozzi

2. Richard Cockerill

3. Levan Tsbadze

4. Troy Jaques

5. Olivier Brouzet

6. Alexandre Audebert

7. Olivier Magne

8. Marc Raynaud

LEINSTER

15. Girvan Dempsey

14. Denis Hickie

13. Brian O’Driscoll

12. Shane Horgan

11. Gordon D’Arcy

10. Christian Warner

9. Brian O’Meara

1. Reggie Corrigan

2. Shane Byrne

3. Emmet Byrne

4. Leo Cullen

5. Aidan McCullen

6. Eric Miller

7. Keith Gleeson

8. Victor Costello

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