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Leinster Rugby (9) 33 - 3 (0) Castres Olympique
RDS Showground
Att: 16,500
Saturday, 6th December 2008, 13:35

Leinster were rather patched up for this Pool two match with Castres. No fewer than seven players were missing including Leinster's first choice outhalves Felipe Contepomi and Isa Nacewa. Jonathan Sexton was given his first HEC start having impressed in a cameo against Wasps in October. Sean O'Brien was a European debutante too coming in for the injured Shane Jennings.

The early stages of this match were stop-start with Leinster struggling to get any rhythm. Hooker Bernard Jackman was blood subbed on two occasions opening up what appears to be a permanent wound on his head. Castres were successfully frustrating Leinster at the breakdown and Leinster struggled to get quick ball. When the ball did reach the backs though Leinster were not helping themselves. Handling errors were undoing any momentum that they managed to generate, and it appeared that the early kick off had left the home team flat.

Leinster did manage to put points on the scoreboard just before the quarter hour with Jonathan Sexton squeaking home a penalty kick. Castres were now giving away penalties for fun with almost every ruck being penalised for hands. The referee's patience seemed interminable though and no yellow card was produced. Sexton managed to convert a further two penalties to give Leinster a 9-0 advantage.

Leinster were bossing the lineouts with Toner in particular impressive and it was from a lineout that Leinster sniffed out the first try scoring opportunity. Toner gathered well and fed Wright who bulldozed through. Elsom picked the ball up just short of the line and looked to squeeze over but the TMO adjudged that the Aussie had lost control of the ball and no try was awarded.

Leinster had Castres under tremendous pressure and when Heaslip blocked down a clearance kick it was a foot race between he and Kevin Senio, with the Castres scrumhalf winning by a whisker and Castres survived.

Leinster went into the break with a nine point advantage as scant reward for complete territorial dominance and knowing that a lot of work was to be done if they were to secure the bonus point they craved.

The second half began the way the first had ended with Leinster dominant and Castres giving away penalties. The breakthrough that Leinster wanted came after just six minutes of the second half. Bernard Jackman converted a move that Girvan Dempsey had created with a lovely chip through and gather. Sexton converted the extra two and Leinster's lead was out to sixteen points.

Castres cut the lead with their first kickable penalty which Anthony Lagardere slotted over. Almost immediately after Castres solitary score Leinster were awarded another penalty. With a thirteen point advantage and with the kick seemingly outside Sexton's range it seemed a bizarre decision to kick. But to kick was what the captain decided and Sexton left the kick several yards short.

Leinster were continuing to dominate set pieces and a scrum in the French 22 almost brought about another try with Kearney just stopped short. Leinster were awarded another penalty and instead of putting their opponents to the sword another kick at the posts ensued, this time successfully and a sixteen point lead re-established.

Leinster were knocking at the door but somehow Castres defence was standing up to it. Time after time Leinster misplaced a pass or were held up short and the frustration was building and palpable on and off the field. The pressure was getting to Castres too and Lagardere inexplicably dropped the ball behind his own line. Heaslip reacted quickly but was fingertips away from touching down, and Castres survived again.

Phase after phase of possession came from Leinster and after over an hour of persistent infringement, Peter Allen's patience finally snapped and substitute Forestier paid the price for his team's illegalities and saw yellow despite being on the pitch a couple of minutes.

The extra man advantage was immediately utilised with Leinster players lining up to score but in the end Brian O'Driscoll kept up his good recent record in this competition with another try.

With fifteen minutes left Leinster were up against it to score the two tries needed, and with the bench being emptied they found it hard to get the momentum needed to press home the extra man advantage. With less than ten minutes left Brian O'Driscoll limped off with a leg injury and the RDS crowd were treated to the unusual sight of Brian Blaney coming on for a third time this time however in the centre.

Simon Keogh crossed for Leinster's third try with five minutes to go following good work from David Holwell, the veteran outhalf converting superbly on the drop to give Leinster an outside chance of snatching the bonus. But the clock was against Leinster and in truth the urgency seen in the last ten minutes had come too late for Leinster to either earn or deserve a bonus point against dogged opposition.

Leinster were left counting the cost of a lacklustre performance and conservative tactics early on, and were rueing what might have been. The casualty count also looked to have increased with O'Driscoll limping off and early indications that Girvan Dempsey took a knock.

The return leg will be a different test for Leinster not only in terms of team selection but in terms of the opposition's approach. Although Castres are effectively out of the running, no French team turn over easily on their own patch and Leinster will need to put in a better performance to secure what could be a vital victory.

Match Statistics

Leinster Rugby
Castres Olympique
Tries Jackman
Simon Keogh
Conversions Sexton
Holwell (2)
Penalties Sexton (4)
Sin Bin
  Forestier (64 - 74)
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Cameron McIntyre
Shane Horgan
14 Charles SIKA
Brian O'Driscoll 13 Steve Kefu
Luke Fitzgerald
12 Lionel Mazars
Rob Kearney
11 Rafael Carballo
Jonathan Sexton
10 Anthony Lagardere
Chris Whitaker (C)
9 Kevin Senio

Stan Wright
1 Kees Lensing
Bernard Jackman 2 Mathieu Bonello
CJ van der Linde
3 Luc Ducalcon
Devin Toner
4 Ludovic Michaux
Malcolm O'Kelly
5 Colin Gaston
Rocky Elsom
6 Lei Tomiki
Sean O'Brien
7 Darron Nell
Jamie Heaslip
8 Florian Faure

Replacements Brian Blaney (for O'Driscoll, 72)
16 Akvsenti Giorgadze (for Bonello, 56)
Cian Healy (for van der Linde, 70)
17 Yannick Forestier (for Lensing, 62)
Trevor Hogan (for Toner, 68)
18 Fabio Staibano
Stephen Keogh (for O'Brien, 70)
19 Joe Tekori
Chris Keane (for Whitaker, 68)
20 Steve Malonga (for Nell, 28)
David Holwell (for Sexton, 62)
21 Sebastian Tillous-Borde
Simon Keogh (for Dempsey, 70)
22 Thomas Bouquie (for Carballo, 16)

Not considered
due to injury
Isa Nacewa (Arm)
Gordon D'Arcy (Arm)
Leo Cullen (Collarbone)
Felipe Contepomi (Hand)
Ronnie McCormack (Neck)
Stephen Knoop (Neck)
Shane Jennings (Knee)

Officials Referee: Peter Allan (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Rob Dickson (SRU), Ronnie Dumma (SRU)
4th Official: Alfie Acheson (ARLB)
5th Official: Des Woods (ARLB)
TMO: Jim Yuille

by Sarah Lennon, © 2008-12-10