False start kills Blues dream of glory
Clermont 27 Leinster 22
The nearly men of European rugby are nearly there once again. Clermont-Auvergne will take their fourth shot at the Champions Cup title in Edinburgh in three weeks as every neutral's choice from the heart.
In the semi-final cauldron that was the Matmut Stadium, they outlasted Leinster at the second time of asking, overturning their dark day in Bordeaux back in 2012.
The French club bookended a pulsating match in Lyon with a powerful start which yielded two tries and a clinical finish from Camille Lopez's penalty and two drop goals in the last quarter.
Clermont needed the cool head of the French fly-half as Leinster threatened a comeback with their resilience, superior fitness and a magical moment from centre Garry Ringrose.
They just couldn't carry it through.
"I've never lost in a European semi-final," lamented Jonathan Sexton.
"It is a hard thing to take. You are one step away from a final against the best team in Europe."
The 31 year-old British & Irish Lion was quick to turn his racing mind towards the future.
"We will be stronger. We've get a very young squad," he commented.
"There's only a couple of old heads left, guys like myself and Isa (Nacewa).
"We don't have many days left and we've got to urge these players not to think that they've got loads of chances at it.
"You've got to take everyone like it's your last one," warned Sexton.
Leinster travelled to Lyon without the operated-on Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, due to suspension, and Seán O'Brien, due to a hamstring strain.
Instead, they had to turn to the innocence of youth embodied by Jack Conan, Joey Carbery and Dan Leavy and their new embrace for unstructured attack.
The Blues had to access their offloading game, and quickly, to lower the register of noise from the Clermont faithful adorned in yellow.
First, they had to get it to use it. But, they shot themselves in the foot in the lineout and at the breakdown where they were cleaned out.
Leinster had won nine out of their previous ten semi-finals in all competitions and had not lost a game since December.
You wouldn't have known it from the way they were steamrolled.
Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Leinster fell 15 points behind in as many minutes to tries by flanker Peceli Yato - Isa Nacewa was binned for his illegal work in the lead-up - and wing David Strettle on the end of veteran scrum-half Morgan Parra's decision-making and pinpoint execution.
There were shades of the Heineken Cup final in 2011 when Leinster trailed Northampton Saints by 16 points.
But, this was in the South of France. They were on the rack and should have been much worse off than the 15-3 difference clawed out of Sexton's kick on half-time.
"We felt we could still win it at half-time," he said.
"In the first-half, we made a lot of errors. We gave them some scores that we needed to make them work harder for in matches like this.
"We needed to make them doubt early on and we gave them a head start 15 points.
"You can't do that in a semi-final."
The Ireland out-half nibbled away at the lead with penalties in the 44th, 49th and 54th minutes as Leinster took over.
Then, the game turned on a disallowed try when Dan Leavy was spotted holding onto Aurelien Rougerie, beyond a ruck, to open up a hole for Fergus McFadden before the flanker finished of a superb attack continued by Sexton and Isa Nacewa.
Nigel Owen brought back play and scrum-half Morgan Parra kicked the penalty in what was a 10-point turnaround in the 57th minute.
The first of Lopez's drop goals was followed by a mesmerising converted try by Ringrose, doing it all himself from inside his own half to make it a two-point game.
Leinster were just not able to put their noses in front, Lopez's penalty and second drop goal making the game safe.
While there was time, there was hope.
Leinster never stopped coming and Sexton's fifth penalty was arrowed over with 90 seconds left on the clock.
They could not claim the restart and never got another sniff, putting the trophy out of reach for another year.
"We were beaten by an impressive side. They've been impressive all year," admitted Sexton.
"We've got to take our hats off, say 'we were not good enough' and we will go again."
You can be sure of it.