Leinster close in on quarter-finals

Leinster 24 Clermont Auvergne 8

Leinster 24 Clermont Auvergne 8

Prop Cian Healy crossed for two tries as Leinster closed in on a place in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with a comfortable victory over Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium.

A record Heineken Cup pool attendance for a game in Ireland of 44,873 saw Joe Schmidt’s side establish a 10-3 half-time lead on the back of Healy’s eighth-minute try.

Third-quarter tries from Healy and flanker Sean O’Brien, added to nine points from the boot of fly-half Jonathan Sexton, then put the result beyond doubt.

Clermont’s only response in the second half was an unconverted try from wing Napolioni Nalaga and although Leinster missed out on a bonus point, they now have a healthy five-point lead in Pool Two.

Brian O’Driscoll started for Leinster after recovering from a jaw injury, while Jamie Heaslip, who was rated doubtful with an ankle problem, passed a late fitness test.

Clermont made four changes from last Sunday’s 20-13 home win over their hosts with Benoit Baby, Gavin Williams, Davit Zirakashvili and Julien Pierre getting call-ups.

There was early intent from both sides in a high quality opening quarter, and Sexton was unfortunate to see his fourth-minute penalty bounce back off the right post.

Isa Nacewa and O’Brien were prominent in attack as Leinster took the game to the reigning French champions, and a pass back inside from O’Driscoll almost sent Richardt Strauss over on a diagonal run.

Good clearing out at a ruck set up another immediate chance and Healy plunged over from just metres out. Sexton knocked the conversion over from the left.

A slick counter from Baby got Clermont into the hosts’ 22 and Sione Lauaki’s muscular drive was only just thwarted, although the French side got some consolation in the form a penalty from Morgan Parra.

The scrum half missed two penalty efforts coming up to the half hour mark as the visitors began to enjoy more possession, with Baby threatening on the counter.

Nacewa did brilliantly to field Brock James’ angled kick, which was intended for Nalaga, and set Leinster off on a long range surge which was added to by strong carrying from Healy and O’Brien.

The territory was Leinster’s as the first half came to a close and Sexton made it 10-3 at the break, punishing Julien Bonnaire for a ruck infringement.

O’Brien and O’Driscoll spearheaded a powerful thrust from the hosts as the second half began.

Referee Nigel Owens ruled that Nathan Hines had been held up over the try-line, but the television replays suggested otherwise.

Nevertheless, from the subsequent scrum, Leinster attacked to the right and, in a carbon copy of his first half score, Healy was able to rumble over. Television match official Derek Bevan confirmed the grounding and Sexton’s conversion took the gap out to 14 points.

Clermont capitulated after a loose pass from Baby trickled into touch near their line. Heaslip’s quickly-taken lineout resulted in Reddan passing for the onrushing O’Brien to crash over, and French heads visibly dropped.

Sexton added the extras and the game lulled significantly in the final quarter as tiredness crept in. A Gavin Williams break and a well-executed lineout maul showed what the visitors are capable of, and Nalaga salvaged some pride with a 69th minute try.

After an energy-sapping first hour Leinster’s attacks petered out and a promising run over halfway from Shane Horgan was spoilt by a forward pass as the home side eased to the win.

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