Castres 16 Leinster 21
Ian Madigan kicked Leinster to victory in a tense Champions Cup match at Castres.
The Ireland international, playing at inside centre this week after starting at full-back against Wasps last weekend, kicked all the Guinness PRO12 side’s points as they came from behind at Stade Pierre Antoine to win 21-16 and maintain their perfect start to the European rugby season.
The win also ensured that Madigan’s midfield partner Gordon D’Arcy could celebrate a successful 100th European game.
Madigan ensured Leinster went into the dressing room at half-time 9-7 up, as the Irish side enjoyed the better of a fast and furious opening period.
Castres opened the scoring with a classic catch-and-drive move as they threatened a repeat of last season’s fast European getaway against the same opponents.
Last January’s encounter in the old Heineken Cup saw Castres race into a 14-0 lead inside the opening quarter. On Sunday, the 2013 Top 14 champions were 7-0 ahead after six minutes, as first the pack grunted and forced their way through a splintered Leinster defence to the line, then Geoffrey Palis – as injured scrum-half Rory Kockott watched on from the stands – sent the home fans wild.
From then, though, the first half belonged to the visitors as they hammered at Castres’ defence, in much the same way as Harlequins had at the Stoop a week earlier.
The difference this week, however, was in the pack. Returning prop Ramiro Herrera brought extra scrummaging might, and where Castres had struggled against Quins in their opening game, here they were in the ascendancy.
The home side’s pack were in charge of just about every scrum; they were in control at the line-outs and they were brutal at the breakdown. And when Leinster’s backs did get ball in hand, the Castres’ defence held them at arm’s length.
For all their first-half pressure, Leinster only had three Madigan penalties to their name when the referee signalled the end of the first period. It could have been four, but the inside centre fired one last effort wide after the hooter had sounded.
The second half opened in the same guts-and-glory style as the first. Palis kicked two early penalties, as Castres overturned their first-half deficit. He extended their lead after 56 minutes with a third second-half penalty to take the score to 16-9.
Herrera, who had just returned to the side after playing for Argentina in the Rugby Championship, left the pitch to a standing ovation.
But the intensity could not last. As players tired and the game slowed down, both sides began making mistakes. And it was Leinster and Madigan who benefited most.
With five minutes remaining, the home side were a single point ahead, and seemed to have the measure of Leinster. But they conceded two late penalties, which the ice-cool Madigan, with jeers and boos ringing around the stadium, converted.