Leinster completed this phase of the European Champions Cup unbeaten thanks to their win over Castres in the Stade Pierre-Antoine stadium yesterday.
However, Castres Olympique, beaten finalists in the Top 14 in June, and champions for the 2012-13 season are a pale comparison of those sides
They currently lie 12th in their domestic competition but with big games coming up against Brive, Toulon and Racing Metro they picked a very strong side looking to get a win in front of their home fans and build confidence.
Leinster have had a patchy start to the season but they have an easy enough group and will be far better come December and January when they get some of their front liners back on board.
The key factor that led Leinster to victory here was their ability to outwork Castres for 80 minutes. Their pre-match strategy of playing at a high tempo and building countless phases eventually exhausted their hosts.
As their fatigue grew so did their indiscipline and English referee Greg Garner was ever vigilant and refused to be influenced by the baying home fans.
Ian Madigan was calm under pressure and continued to impress with the boot when kicking seven penalties from nine attempts — accounting for all of Leinster’s scores.
Castres began impressively. Some strong ball carrying preceded a lovely cross-field kick caught on the run by Geoffey Palis and when he grubber kicked into the Leinster 22 Madigan had no choice but to carry the ball over the line for a Castre throw in. The resultant line-out was won by the hosts who crashed over for the day’s opening try.
Even though Leinster played with tempo they were not afraid to play territory either and with Zane Kirchner (in his best position, at full back) they won the kicking battle hands down. It was great to see Luke Fitzgerald back in action after a lengthy injury lay-off. Yesterday he was stationed on the left wing and although he made a few bad reads in defence, Leinster coach Matt O’Connor will be happy with his contribution and be glad to have him back in the mix.
There wwere chances throughout the match for Leinster to counterattack on kick returns or from turnover ball but the quality of their passing frequently allowed the Castres defence to regain the initiative.
If Leinster are to be contenders for the title that is something they will need to add to their armoury because they don’t have the individuals with the power to dominate collisions from structured situations — something that squads like Toulon and Clermont have in abundance. It means Leinster need to have a higher conversion rate from unstructured opportunities.
It was obvious in the first half Castres had the edge at the scrum but Leinster managed to limit their put-ins and had Sean Cronin striking for the ball, getting it out quickly on their own put-in.
From the first scrum of the second-half Castres really targeted the scrum as their way into the game and Micheal Bent, who was forced into action due to injuries to Mike Ross and Marty Moore, was badly exposed.
Leo Cullen was forced to introduce Academy tight head Tadgh Furlong with 15 minutes to go and suddenly Leinster were able to get parity in this crucial sector.
Eoin Reddan replaced Issac Boss and, as always, he increased the speed of the match and made two key linebreaks around the ruck that gave Leinster great go forward and led to kickable penalties.
Madigan kicked his final penalty in the 79th minute and Leinster gathered the subsequent kick-off and calmy build a few phases until the hooter sounded and Heaslip kicked the ball into touch.
Matt O’Connor will be satisfied with their return from a week of European action but knows his side must improved if they are to progress.
Crucially, they have the ability to do so.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved