Super Blues keep double in sights

Joe Schmidt’s side won their third European trophy in successive years and gave Connacht reason to celebrate also as the Westerners gained entry to next season’s Heineken Cup courtesy of their neighbours to the east.

With Clermont Auvergne in town for this evening’s Heineken Cup final against Toulon, having eliminated Schmidt’s side at the pool stages with a victory over the three-time champions at the Aviva in December, the reminders of Leinster’s early exit from Europe’s premier club competition have been all too obvious.

But the boys in blue made some amends with this convincing victory, four tries to one and with the feeling it was even more one-sided than that.

There will be little time for Leinster to savour this success, however, as a much a stiffer test seems certain to await them when Ulster come calling to Dublin 4 next Saturday night. Not Leinster’s fault of course as they jumped out into a three-try, 21-6 half-time lead thanks to some sharp attacking play at one end and wasted opportunities and strong defence at the other.

Sergio Parisse’s side were on the back foot as early as the third minute when Rhys Ruddock won a lineout in Leinster’s own half, Isaac Boss zipped the ball to the backs out at pace and Isa Nacewa collected a reverse pass to carve open the French club’s defences on halfway. Nacewa passed inside to Sexton who in turn fed Ian Keatley, playing inside centre, to press home the numerical advantage and score beneath the posts, Sexton converting.

Stade rallied and spent some time in the Leinster 22 but could not find a way through, half-backs Julien Dupuy and Jules Plisson combining well down the left after 10 minutes, only for fly-half Plisson to be denied in the corner by Sexton’s covering tackle.

Three minutes later Samoa centre Paul Williams was held up on the Leinster line by Sean O’Brien and when Stade recycled their pressure came to nought as a loose pass was flicked along the line and ruled forward.

Stade’s poor decision-making was exposed at the other end on 20 minutes when the backs decided to run a Leinster kick-ahead out of their own 22, only for Andrew Conway to pounce on the man in possession, centre Geoffrey Doumayrou, forcing the French side to kick to safety, but this time under pressure and only as far as halfway.

The pain continued as Leinster made them pay straight from the restart, Devin Toner winning the lineout, Boss again zipping the ball out wide and then sending up a bomb caught by the alert and Munster-bound Conway, whose superb offload in the tackle was gratefully received by hooker Sean Cronin to added another try.

Stade finally got on the scoresheet in the 26th minute when full-back Jerome Porical sent over a penalty, but it was a brief respite, Sexton sending over an inch-perfect crossfield kick to the left wing where Nacewa soaked up the tackle and offloaded for Rob Kearney to dive over in the corner. Sexton’s conversion took the score to 21-3 and Leinster looked home and hosed before the opening half-hour was up, Porical’s long-range penalty to end the opening period having all the hallmarks of a consolation.

Scrum-half Dupuy looked to have been the scapegoat for Stade’s first-half woes, called ashore by the Parisians’ co-coaches David Auradou and Christophe Laussucq and replaced by former Munster favourite Paul Warwick, playing his last game for the French club before switching to Worcester.

The only spark, though, continued to be the travelling band accompanying the Frenchmen, the bereted brass ensemble bashing out tunes from Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance to Dirty Old Town to the delight of the Leinster support which naturally formed the majority of the 20,396 crowd.

Even Porical’s penalty was cancelled out by Sexton’s kick from a similar distance just inside the opposition half after 53 minutes, with Jeremy Sinzelle’s 66th-minute try in the corner definitely of the face-saving variety, Plisson adding the conversion.

Rob Kearney nearly added a fourth try of the evening for Leinster with a blistering run around the Stade winger Hugo Bonneval, whose tackle sent the Irish full-back’s foot into touch and instead it was left to replacement prop Cian Healy to drive over in the 78th minute to complete a dominant performance, Sexton adding the conversion moments after being named man of the match.

LEINSTER: R Kearney (D Kearney 78); A Conway, F McFadden (A Goodman 66), I Madigan, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; J McGrath (C Healy 51), S Cronin (R Strauss 51, Cronin 72), M Ross (J Hagan 59); Q Roux (L Cullen 59), D Toner; R Ruddock, S O’Brien (S Jennings 57), J Heaslip (capt).

STADE FRANCAIS: J Porical (W Vuidravuwalu 54); J Sinzelle, G Doumayrou, P Williams (J Arias 74), H Bonneval; J Plisson, J Dupuy (P Warwick 41); A De Malmanche (S Wright 30), L Sempere (R Bonfils 56), R Slimani; S Lavalla (A van Zyl 67), G Mostert; D Lyons, P Rabadan, S Parisse (capt).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal).


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