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Thursday 28 August 2014

Schmidt: no rub of the green for Blues

BOSS laments draw that put champs in firing line

"We need a try," Leo Cullen could be clearly seen mouth to his backs in the 74th minute.

Hey presto, Sean O'Brien's simple timing of the pass enabled Jonathan Sexton and Fergus McFadden to cut loose from inside their half for what could turn out to be the saving grace of Leinster's season.

Leinster clawed back a losing bonus-point in the 28-21 reverse to Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening with 78 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock.

It leaves a glimmer of hope, nothing more: "There is a measure of frustration. But, there is a heck of a lot of respect as well. They came to play. They played very well," admitted Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.

"We thought we might have out-thought them last week. But, you've got to think on your feet against the power that they bring.

"If they get access to the game, they are incredibly hard to stop. I'd love to see them go through and do extremely well, obviously. They are my old club".

The refereeing of Wayne Barnes left a lot to be desired and even more to be discussed: "There are things we are dissatisfied with, but there is no way we are dissatisfied with what Clermont brought to the game.

"My biggest disappointment with the scrum is that we demonstrated real scrum dominance last week," said Schmidt.

Effective

"You can talk about angles. You can talk about binding. You can talk about loose forwards joining the front row. All those strategies are pretty effective. Unfortunately, you just got to take the rub of the green there."

The beauty and the beast of the Heineken Cup is that potential champions can confront each other in the Pool, while other less talented clubs can find safer passage at this stage.

"Sometimes it is frustrating to see some teams get through a Pool that is not quite as competitive. But, at the same time, you don't get great head-to-head games like today," he said.

"It keeps the Pool really interesting. It keeps the draw really interesting. I am not saying you need a solution to it (the system). I'm just saying that sometimes the rub of the green doesn't go your way.

"If we could have survived, we might have had a few guys back on deck in time for the big games. You can't play the big games, if you don't win the Pool games. Those Pool games in the last two weeks were monumental."

It was that way from the start. Sexton stepping inside Morgan Parra only for the half-tackle to bring him down before he attempted a high risk ball off the floor with Richardt Strauss closing in fast for the offload. The intent was there; the execution a fraction off.

This was done on the counter as Clermont built methodically, seemingly comfortable that nothing would come quickly or easily. Parra was par-excellence from an eighth-minute penalty.

Captain Leo Cullen slapped back a lineout that put Eoin Reddan in a world of difficulty. Leinster were on the back-foot again until Sean O'Brien rode to the rescue at the breakdown.

Brock James made no disguise about targeting Ian Madigan at full-back. He knocked on the first tester and was beaten to the second by Lee Byrne only for the ball to pop forward.

Leinster were awarded their first kickable penalty in the 15th minute. It was right on the edge of Sexton's range. He went for the corner where a nice, simple planned move eventually yielded three points.

It was symptomatic of the champions' season that they should work hard for their reward only to conceded three more to Parra straight away for Damian Browne entering a ruck from the side at the end of the first quarter.

Sexton eyed the corner again from a penalty. He kicked it to within 10-metres out.

Trouble

Prop Mike Ross recovered a skewed lineout. The screw was turned. Clermont refused to give way. Sexton shot another three.

The inexperience of Madigan got him into trouble when he went for broke from a desperate defensive position.

The ball was kicked infield and Leinster had to give everything to withstand an onslaught. They were relieved to cough up three from Parra's superb penalty near the left touchline.

Then, Sitiveni Sivivatu got his hands free in the tackle. Lee Byrne was the link man and Napolioni Nalaga galloped away down the left. It took four to fell him.

Centre Wesley Fofana cut back and somehow got his right hand clear of a forest of legs to ground the ball legitimately. Parra's conversion made it 16-6 in the 36th minute. A hill had turned into a mountain.

This was a test to surpass that of the comeback against Northampton Saints, simply because of Clermont's resources and rising confidence. It showed on their return. They kept the ball and Parra shot home when Ross was penalised at the scrum.

Leinster came hard when Clermont's Aurelian Rougerie tried to move out of defence.

They scattered bodies and Sexton made it 19-9 to bring them back to ten behind in the 47th minute.

The quick-thinking of Parra from a tap penalty tempted O'Brien into an early hit on Sivivatu. He saw yellow and Parra smacked a 40-metre penalty for 22-9.

At a scrum, Ross went to ground yet again. Schmidt sent Michael Bent on to counter the technique of Raphael Chaume as Parra made it 25-9 in the 63rd minute.

Leinster's character could never be called into question. A slick lineout, forming a maul at the front, concluded with Shane Jennings rampaging over the line. Sexton converted.

It could have been a shot in the arm. Instead, it was a shot from the immaculate Parra which quietened the crowd again when Cian Healy was deemed to have used hands in the ruck.

Leinster needed a try to salvage a losing bonus-point.

They had six minutes when Cullen exhorted his backs to produce a piece of magic. They did.

It probably won't be enough in the long run.

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