Planet Rugby

Leinster stunned by Castres fightback

12th December 2008 21:55

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Casters v Leinster stock Dec 12

Muscled out of it: Girvan Dempsey heads into heavy midfield traffic

Leinster left Pool Two of the Heineken Cup open on Friday, after succumbing to a desperate 18-15 defeat to Castres in France, a defeat born out of the Irish's own inability to come out of their shells and of the French side's sheer spirit.

Leinster tore into the game early on, enjoying almost entire possession of the ball for the first five minutes and finishing off that spell with a try from Girvan Dempsey, with Brian O'Driscoll stabbing a grubber kick through and Dempsey capitalising on some dreadful defence from Charlie Sika and Thomas Bouquié to pounce and score.

It should have been the platform for a dominant display. Instead, Castres made a nuisance of themselves at rucks and mauls, Leinster refused to commit the necessary numbers to ensure clean ball and continuity, and the game descended into a disjointed mess.

That was just the home side's game. Without a win in five matches bar a home win against the Top 14's bottom club, the coaches confirmed departures at the end of the season, the captain on his way as well, and in front of a disappointingly sparse home crowd, the home forwards scrapped for every loose morsel of possession and fought in the heart manner of every crisis-stricken club.

Leinster just switched off. They gave away some appalling penalties in kickable positions, three of which Anthony Lagardere kicked over the crossbar to give the home side an improbable 9-7 lead. There was no greater symptom of Leinster's slack attitude than when Malcolm O'Kelly picked up a kicked ball on the retreat, gave a soggy sponge of a pass to Rob Kearney who dropped it on his own 22.

Castres really were there for the taking. Leinster's second try was simplicity itself, Luke Fitzgerald breaking the centres, and offloading to Jamie Heaslip, with two more offloads in tackles allowing Jonny Sexton an easy run to the line. Sexton missed the conversion from an easy angle, and paid for both that and some slow playmaking with his place at the break.

His replacement Felipe Contempomi fared little better, missing two penalties in the first ten minutes of the second half as Leinster piled on more pressure and referee Dave Pearson curried little favour with a superbly partizan crowd.

Contempomi did make it 15-9 after Steve Kefu was harshly yellow-carded, but even numerical superiority couldn't help the Leinstermen out of their shells.

Castres kept on tackling and tackling, and the Irish just would not commit enough bodies to the ruck. The home side forced turnover after turnover, and Leinster's players had not the faintest idea of how to cope with the pressure being inflicted by the home team's forwards.

Penalty after penalty came for the home team, and Lagardere punished every single one within range. By the time Kefu had returned it was 15-12, eight minutes later, it was 18-15 to the home team with ten minutes to go.

Still there was no imagination from the Irish. Still they bashed flat runners at the navy blue defensive line, still they kicked ball back deep. As time ran short, so everything became more panicked - never more so apparent than when Contempomi sliced a penalty kick some 15m in from the touchline.

Time ran out slowly and excruciatingly until the final minute, finally some enterprise, with the ball going out to Isa Nacewa to make 20m down the right. But another basic error, another Leinster player in off his feet, and Castres had the penalty to kick to touch for the win.

Man of the match: Lionel Nallet supposedly committed his future elsewhere on Friday, but any Castres supporter doubting his commitment to Castres until the end of the season will know he is going to see out his contract at Castres to the letter. He was brilliant at every breakdown and tackle.

The scorers:

For Castres:

Pens: Lagardere 6

For Leinster:

Try: Dempsey, Sexton

Con: Sexton

Pen: Contempomi

Yellow card: Kefu (53, Castres, dangerous tackle)

Castres: 15 Thomas Bouquié, 14 Charles Sika, 13 Steve Kefu, 12 Lionel Mazars, 11 Philip Christophers, 10 Anthony Lagardere, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Florian Faure, 7 Chris Masoe, 6 Lei Tomiki, 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Daniel Saayman, 2 Akvsenti Giorgadze, 1 Gideon Lensing.

Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Luc Ducalcon, 18 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 19 Kirill Kulemin, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Thomas Sanchou, 22 Matthieu Bourret.

Leinster: 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Simon Keogh, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Rob Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Chris Whitaker (c), 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 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 Sean O'Brien, 20 Chris Keane, 21 Felipe Contepomi/Fergus McFadden, 22 Isa Nacewa.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)

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