Leinster leave it too late

Date published: December 6 2008

Leinster managed to put one laboured foot into the Heineken Cup knockout stages as they overcame Castres 33-3 at the RDS on Saturday.

Leinster managed to put one laboured foot into the Heineken Cup knockout stages as they overcame a dogged Castres 33-3 at the RDS on Saturday.

It was far from a performance of European champions in waiting against the Top 14 strugglers, but the Irish giants ultimately got the job done as they dominated both possession and territory stakes.

Castres entered the game having only picked up one win from their last eleven away matches so the omens were largely with Leinster to add further weight to their imposing tournament start. But despite victory, that was not the case as Michael Cheika's men struggled to find the same ferocity that did for Wasps in Round Two.

There were some bright spots on display though as young talent such as Luke Fitzgerald, Sean O'Brien and Devin Toner continued their growth under the stewardship of knowledgeable duo Brian O'Driscoll and Rocky Elsom.

However, it was the French side that made the early running – putting their domestic woes to one side – as monster winger Charles Sika threw down a sizeable marker to any that stood in his way. The big runner brushed off two attempted tacklers down the right side as Leinster took time to settle.

That was until the Irish's own answer to Sika, Shane Horgan, announced himself on the game with a slalom run that handed the hosts some much-needed territory on ten minutes. All of which led to a succession of penalties close to the Castres line that centre O'Driscoll first ordered to the touchline before settling with three points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton.

That period of decent territory looked to have proved the catalyst for the men in blue as they launched a sustained period of pressure on the French line – Sexton adding another penalty to double the lead on nineteen minutes.

Leinster's ability to move the ball through patient phases without error was starting to leave several opponents gasping for air heading into the second quarter. And despite their lack of tries, Bernard Jackman's faultless line-out and the ever-increasing Castres tackle count left a scent that five-pointers were not too far in coming.

Another three points were subsequently added by Sexton as some consolation to take Leinster over a score ahead on the half-hour as Castres lost their hard-running South African Darron Nel with a knee problem.

The elusive try continued to edge ever closer on 33 minutes as Wallaby flank Rocky Elsom lost the ball over the whitewash with men waiting for the simple run in as the tempo increased. Soon after, it was his flank partner Sean O'Brien who continued his highly impressive Heineken Cup debut with a hand-off and break.

Yet even with a gift from the opposition it seemed Leinster's inability to get over the whitewash was becoming increasingly frustrating. This time Sexton's touch-finder was smartly kept in play by number eight Florian Faure before his in-goal sidestep preceded a forward pass on his own five-metre…nothing came though as half-time sounded.

The interval was obviously needed by Leinster as they ultimately took stock of what was lacking from their stuttering game. And how the break helped their second forty showing as Castres started to feel the heat of those tackles coupled with plenty of chasing.

The try came just seven minutes into the half as a poor pass was gathered by Horgan whose chip and gather of the bouncing ball was slightly lucky before handing it on to the bloodied and shimmying Jackman to ghost round full-back Cameron McIntrye under the posts.

All gaps then continued to widen as the referee started to lose patience with the French indiscipline as one-way traffic meant it was a case of chasing the bonus point.

The slightly less elusive second try was claimed on 67 minutes just seconds after Castres replacement prop Yannick Forestier found himself count the cost for his team's breakdown offences. This time a fired ball out to O'Driscoll saw him glide over with David Holwell adding the extras to take the scores to 26-3 with ten minutes of frantic action remaining.

The third crossing followed on 76 minutes as wing Simon Keogh raced over as Leinster chased the fourth score but it was all too little too late in Dublin.

The scorers:

For Leinster:
Jackman, O'Driscoll, Keogh
Con: Sexton, Holwell 2
Pen: Sexton 4

For Castres:
Pen: Lagardere

Leinster: 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Rob Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Chris Whitaker, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Malcolm O'Kelly, 4 Devin Toner, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Bernard Jackman, 1 Stan Wright.
Replacements: 16 Brian Blaney, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Trevor Hogan, 19 Stephen Keogh, 20 Chris Keane, 21 David Holwell, 22 Simon Keogh.

Castres: 15 Cameron McIntyre, 14 Charles Sika, 13 Steve Kefu, 12 Lionel Mazars, 11 Rafael Carballo, 10 Anthony Lagardere, 9 Kevin Senio, 8 Florian Faure, 7 Darron Nell, 6 Lei Tomiki, 5 Colin Gaston, 4 Ludovic Michaux, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Mathieu Bonello, 1 Gideon Lensing.
Replacements: 16 Akvsenti Giorgadze, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Fabio Staibano, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Steve Malonga, 21 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 22 Thomas Bouquié.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales), Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Television match official: Derek Bevan (Wales)