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Disastrous start leaves Leinster with too much to do in defeat to Clermont

Camille Lopez guided the Top 14 club home in a thrilling Champions Cup semi-final in Lyon.

Clermont 27

Leinster 22

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadium de Gerland, Lyon

MUCH OF THE damage was done early on and, though the momentum seesawed in this thrilling Champions Cup semi-final, Clermont just about deserve their place in the European decider against Saracens on 13 May.

Camille Lopez celebrates scoring a drop goal Camille Lopez celebrates one of his brilliant drop goals. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Not that Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen will agree. They will feel Leinster could and should have won this absorbing knock-out tie, even after their shocking opening 15 minutes.

They went close to pulling off a remarkable comeback win in the second half and looked to have gone ahead in the 56th minute, but a potentially brilliant Dan Leavy try was chalked off for the flanker’s illegal holding of Aurelien Rougerie to allow the initial break.

It was a huge moment that allowed Clermont to gain their footing once again having stumbled badly following an opening quarter that left them 15-0 ahead and dominating in every facet of the game.

Garry Ringrose then scored a sensational solo try to draw Leinster to within two points in the closing 10 minutes but Clermont steadied themselves, out-half Camille Lopez guiding them home with the kind of composure that has been lacking in ASM in recent years.

Leinster were always chasing the game after their disastrous start and though they showed grit to keep themselves clinging to Clermont’s coat-tails throughout, forcing doubts into the Top 14 side’s minds, that opening effort was simply not good enough.

The lineout malfunctioned to an alarming degree, the breakdown work was incredibly sloppy and Leinster invited pressure from Clermont, who gladly responded with tries from Peceli Yato and David Strettle.

The second of those tries came with captain Isa Nacewa in the sin bin for tugging Strettle’s shirt off the ball.

An overthrow from Richardt Strauss was costly in the third minute, before Ringrose opted to chip possession away and Clermont countered willingly, Nick Abendanon and Strettle combining and then Lopez having a dart.

The ASM forwards munched through powerful phases until Parra spotted Leinster’s defence far too tight on the right and threw a double skip pass to Strettle, who burst into space, drew Joey Carbery and chipped ahead for Yato to dot down a TMO-confirmed try converted by Parra.

Peceli Yato scores the first try of the game Peceli Yato scores Clermont's opener. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The classy scrum-half then slotted a penalty after Nacewa was yellow-carded for pulling Strettle back as he ran a support line when Clermont threatened down the right, while Leinster’s lineout continued to struggle, losing two of their next three throws.

Attacking against 14 men, the rampant Clermont moved into a commanding 15-0 lead as Strettle touched down for their second try – again on the right.

Another intelligent skip pass from Parra saw the English wing burst down the touchline outside Leavy, before stepping inside the covering tackle attempt of Carbery to score.

Clermont were utterly dominant at the breakdown as Leinster’s support runners struggled to get to the tackle, but a breakout attack from their own 22 on turnover ball showed some signs of life until Carbery spilled forward in the excellent tackle of Strettle.

While the error count continued to be too high – Fergus McFadden kicking out on the full under little pressure at one point – Leinster did manage to take some of the sting out of the Parra-inspired Clermont as the half developed.

That said, they needed a despairing tackle from Carbery on Scott Spedding when the Clermont fullback had hacked ahead from a misplaced Johnny Sexton pass, the France international slowing to scoop the ball off the ground and giving Carbery time to catch him.

Parra had a chance to extend the French side’s lead three minutes before the break after Leinster’s seventh penalty concession of the half – another damaging area – but his shot drifted wide to the left.

And Leinster ended the half on a positive note, finally putting together their excellent multi-phase attack and breaking into the Clermont 22 to win a penalty that saw Sexton bring them back to 15-3.

David Strettle scores his sides second try David Strettle dots down ASM's second try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It was as good a scoreline as Leinster could have hoped for at the break given how ominous it had looked in the opening quarter, and then an excellent start to the second half  - featuring a break from Jack Conan – saw Sexton add on another three points to draw them closer.

Suddenly the tide was turning Leinster’s way, with Rhys Ruddock standing up as a real leader in contact. Clermont failed to release before competing at breakdown time and Sexton’s third penalty had Leinster back to within six points in the 50th minute.

Carbery and Sexton countered effectively next and Chouly was caught offside by the clever Luke McGrath, the scrum-half passing the ball into the Clermont back row only minutes after a brilliant tackle on Yato down the right touchline.

Again, Sexton slotted the penalty to close the gap to just three points with more than 25 minutes left to play.

With Clermont clearly rattled and back-peddling, Leinster looked to have moved into the lead with Leavy’s try – featuring beautiful passing and support play from McFadden, Sexton and Henshaw – but the TMO review fairly chalked it off and the Top 14 side seized their lifeline.

Parra confidently nailed the penalty from wide on the right, before Nacewa was harshly penalised when competing for an aerial ball, as the ASM crowd once again burst into life with the breathing room the 18-12 scoreline provided them.

The ASM resurgence continued with a sublime Lopez drop goal from over 40 metres out after Leinster had appeared to repel the best of the Clermont attack and a knock-on from replacement hooker Sean Cronin sapped Leinster’s energy even further.

Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty Sexton's penalties were crucial in the second half. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And just when it looked like Clermont would drive into the closing 10 minutes with composure, Ringrose produced his sublime bit of attacking play to score an absolute wonder try from inside his own half.

He stepped off his right foot inside both sub centre Damien Penaud and Clermont captain Chouly, then dummied a pass to Henshaw on his left, completely selling Spedding, before showing scorching pace to out-sprint Abendanon to the tryline.

Sexton converted to bring Leinster back to 21-19 and quieten the ASM crowd but another error from Cronin, this time going off his feet at a ruck along with Josh van der Flier, allowed Lopez – with Parra now off – to fire over a penalty and open the gap once again to four points.

Lopez missed a longer-range shot at goal soon after but then produced another stunning drop goal from distance to send Clermont 27-19 to the good.

Sexton fired over a penalty in the 79th minute to once again give Leinster some chance of success but Clermont won the restart through Penaud and wound down the closing seconds inside the Leinster 22, where they had done so much damage early on.

Clermont scorers:

Tries: Peceli Yato, David Strettle

Conversions: Morgan Parra [1 from 2]

Penalties: Morgan Parra [1 from 2], Camille Lopez [1 from 2]

Drop goals: Camille Lopez [2]

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [1 from 1]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [5 from 5]

 ASM CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Scott Spedding; David Strettle, Aurelien Rougerie (Damien Penaud ’56), Remi Lamerat (Patricio Fernandez ’66), Nick Abendanon; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra (Ludovic Radosavljevic ’70); Raphael Chaume (Etienne Falgoux ’65), Benjamin Kayser (John Ulugia ’54), Davit Zirakashvili (Aaron Jarvis ’65); Arthur Iturria, Sébastien Vahaamahina (Paul Jedrasiak ’70); Damien Chouly (captain), Peceli Yato (Alexandre Lapandry ’54), Fritz Lee.

LEINSTER: Joey Carbery; Fergus McFadden (Zane Kirchner ’73), Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (captain) (yellow card ’9 to ’19); Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park ’65); Jack McGrath (Peter Dooley ’61), Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin ’50), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent ’72); Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs (Ross Molony ’61); Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy (Josh van der Flier ’65), Jack Conan.

Replacements not used: Ross Byrne.

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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