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Classic on the cards in Bordeaux

Thursday 26th April 2012

12:00 am (GMT)

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Leinster Rugby are bidding to become only the second club to win back-to-back Heineken Cup titles but they face a huge challenge when they meet ASM Clermont Auvergne in Sunday's semi-final at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux. - 26/04/2012 09:30

Leinster Rugby are bidding to become only the second club to win back-to-back Heineken Cup titles but they face a huge challenge when they meet ASM Clermont Auvergne in Sunday's semi-final at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux. - 26/04/2012 09:30

Leinster Rugby are bidding to become only the second club to win back-to-back Heineken Cup titles but they face a huge challenge when they meet ASM Clermont Auvergne in Sunday’s semi-final at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux.

Aurelien Rougerie’s French standard bearers are in uncharted territory and appearing in the tournament’s semi-final stage for the first time but the manner in which they knocked out English champions Saracens in the Vicarage Road quarter-final will have sent the Leinster alarm bells ringing.

Only Leicester Tigers have managed to successfully defend European club rugby’s most coveted title and Leinster are unbeaten in their last 13 tournament matches.

But the fact that they last tasted a Heineken Cup defeat when they went down 20-13 at Clermont in last season’s Pool stages will not be lost on Leo Cullen and his team-mates.

Now the clubs go head-to-head again with a prestigious place in the 17th Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, May 19 at stake against the winner of the Dublin semi-final between Ulster Rugby and Edinburgh Rugby.

Leinster’s path to the last four included a clinical 34-3 demolition of Cardiff Blues in the quarter-finals in a match in which Brian O’Driscoll marked his return from injury in typical swashbuckling style.

Ireland’s captain is the one who makes the champions tick while full back Rob Kearney is arguably European rugby’s form player.

The form player for Clermont at Vicarage Road was outside-half Brock James, called into the action from the replacements bench after just three minutes before proceeding to run the show for the 2010 French champions.

They have a formidable back division that includes French internationals Rougerie, Morgan Parra, Wesley Fofana and Julien Malzieu along with Welsh star Lee Byrne and All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu.

Up front, Nathan Hines – a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster 11 months ago – has been in prime form while the battle at the breakdown promises to be critical, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Julien Bonnaire all world class.

Clermont would love to celebrate their centenary season with a first Heineken Cup crown while Leinster are targeting matching Leicester’s feat of back-to-back titles but first there is this intriguing semi-final to decide who marches on to the showpiece event at Twickenham next month.

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Heineken Cup dream still alive for heroic holders

Sunday 29th April 2012

12:00 am (GMT)

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Des dernières secondes irrespirables

Des dernières secondes irrespirables

Holders Leinster will face Ulster in the Heineken Cup Final after a heroic defensive effort saw off ASM Clermont Auvergne in the closing stages of a pulsating semi-final on Sunday afternoon.

Leinster somehow repelled a barrage of Clermont attacks in the final five minutes as they ran out 19-15 winners at the Stade Chabal Demas.

Wesley Fofana thought he had won it for the hosts with more than 78 minutes gone but television replays showed the star centre had dropped the ball over the try line, much to the frustration of a truly incredible Clermont support.

Even after Leinster won the resulting scrum five metres from their own line, Clermont somehow earned another shot at glory as the clock ticked towards the red. But with three points for a penalty not enough to win it for Clermont, their final surge to their tryline ended in disappointment as they infringed at ruck time and Leinster breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Cian Healy’s try moments after half time proved decisive, with Jonathan Sexton kicking 11 points and Heineken Man of the Match Rob Kearney slotting a monster drop goal.

All of Clermont’s points came from the boot of Brock James, with four first-half penalties handing the semi-final final debutants a 12-6 lead at the break. But James could only add one more successful strike in the second period as Clermont fell agonisingly short of trip to London next month.  

Sexton opened the scoring with a simple penalty after seven minutes as Leinster started brightly in Bordeaux. Isa Nacewa burst through the first line of defence out wide on the right, Clermont were caught offside and Sexton slotted home from the 22 after referee Wayne Barnes had initially played advantage.

James pushed an optimistic 55-metre drop goal wide of the right post on nine minutes but Leinster continued to enjoy the better of the opening stages and Nacewa was heavily involved again just moments after opposite number Julien Malzieu was forced off with an injury. The Fijian wing caught Kearney’s beautiful long pass in full flight before chipping ahead, only for Sitiveni Sivivatu to win the chase to the loose ball.

Clermont levelled affairs thanks to James’ first strike on 17 minutes and a second success from the Australian playmaker moved them 6-3 in front just past the half hour.

Sexton made it all square six minutes before half-time but it was Clermont who had started to dominate despite being forced into a substantial reshuffle in their back division. With Lee Byrne joining Malzieu in walking off injured, Clermont brought Regan King into the centre and Jean-Marcel Buttin on at full back, with skipper Aurelien Rougerie moving to the right wing and Sivivatu switching to the left.

Clermont were rewarded with two further penalties from James, who was quickly forgetting his nightmare day with the boot when these two teams met in the quarter-finals in Dublin two years ago.

The second of those, and the fourth in total, arrived on the stroke of half time, leaving Clermont with a 12-6 lead at the break.

But whereas it was the French side who had the momentum heading into the interval, Leinster undoubtedly picked up the pace straight after the interval.

Leinster enjoyed the perfect start to the second half as they caught Clermont napping less than two minutes after the interval. Big bursts from Isaac Boss and Kearney sent Healy cruising over for the game’s first and only try, sending the Clermont crowd eerily quiet.

Sexton added the extras from halfway between the posts and the touchline on his favoured left side to hand Leinster a 13-12 lead before Kearney made it 10 points in six minutes with a brilliantly-struck long-range drop.

Clermont refused to buckle, though, and they could have been back in front by the 53-minute mark. Instead they were at least within a point as James fluffed his first penalty of the half but nailed his second to make it 15-16.

Sexton edged Leinster four points clear on 62 minutes with an assured penalty of his own but controversy surrounded his next attempt with 10 minutes left to play. The assistant referees signalled his kick had sailed just wide but a lack of certainty persuaded Barnes to seek confirmation from the TMO. The entire stadium held its breath but when the call came back it heralded the answer that the majority of the crowd were looking for – no score.

It made no difference to the end result, though, as Clermont struggled to get out of their own half until that momentous final five minutes.

Only inches eventually separated Clermont from glory and Leinster from desolation as Fofana made his fateful stretch for the line but it matters not as far as the reigning champions are concerned: their Heineken Cup hopes remain alive while Clermont’s are dead and buried for another year at least.

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