BIRTHDAY boy Brian O’Driscoll, 32, capped Leinster’s 36-11 blitz of Racing Metro with their fifth and final try in a mesmerising performance that guaranteed a home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup.
“We had a fair bit of belief we could emerge from the Pool, but certainly not with an accumulated total of 24 points,” admitted Leinster coach Joe Schmidt. “It is a credit to the players. They really have stood up and repeated some very, very good performances,” he issued, at the conclusion of what was dubbed ‘the group of death’.
Out-half Jonathan Sexton was careful not to get carried away: “We are happy. We know how tough it is to come to France. “At the same time, we know we forced the ball a little. “Racing had a lot of players out and they’ve got a big game in a few days. We won’t get carried away with ourselves. We are delighted to get the home quarterfinal.
We’ll push on from here.” In the first minute, Cian Healy was harshly penalised for bringing a scrum down. Juan Martin Hernandez struck from 30 metres. Then, Leinster moved through the gears until Gordon D’Arcy’s kick was taken in by Racing fullback
Dan Scarbrough for what almost turned into a try-scoring counter. Full-back Isa Nacewa spurned the safety first option. He set the tempo by going for a quick tap from inside his own 22. The continuity came. Eventually, the ball was transferred Nacewa’s way for a try, converted by Jonathan Sexton in the 11th minute.
This was quickly wiped out when Sean O’Brien, Mike Ross and Eoin Reddan were all brushed aside by powerhouse centre Virimi Vakatawa. It was lightweight defence. Number eight O’Brien announced his presence on the end of a superb rebound from deep, using his football skills to make 60 yards. Racing couldn’t control their lineout possession. Scrum-half Isaac Boss seized on the spill to find O’Brien speeding to the posts. Sexton converted.
The third try was threaded through many hands, Luke Fitzgerald recovering form by the movement. His exquisite offload to Nacewa was taken to the posts by Sexton, who converted for a 21- 8 advantage in the 25th minute.
Thereafter, Leinster eased off and Racing came back into it. Puma Hernandez kicked a simple penalty for 21-11 at the interval. Leinster went straight back to playing the game at 100-miles-anhour but had to survive a couple of close shave.
These reminded Leinster that winning was their first concern; the bonus-point their second. Sexton knocked over a penalty when Racing got overinterested in a ruck. The French club brought on a big brigade of replacements to draw Leinster into the trenches.
They kept them there until a penalty was signaled and Isaac Boss used the advantage rule to send Sexton through a gaping hole for the bonus-point security. The introduction of Eoin Reddan further lifted the pace of Leinster’s attack. That man O’Brien took the ball on a hard line, slipping it to O’Driscoll on his shoulder for their fifth.
It moved Leinster temporarily into first seed position with every chance of staying there before Northampton Saints, away to Castres Olympique this evening, and Toulouse, away to London Wasps tomorrow afternoon, have their say.