Leinster moved clear at the top of their Heineken Cup Pool One table with a nervy 19-7 win against French champions Castres in front of 18,540 at the RDS this afternoon.
The three-time champions were in contention until the hour mark but two soft yellow cards in the final quarter allowed Leinster to pull clear after replacement prop Jack McGrath scored a try on his Heineken Cup debut.
Castres should have escaped with a bonus point after a stout away display but two yellow cards and a disallowed try in the final half-hour will ensure the return in January will be a bitterly contested affair.
However, the sloppy home side struggled to impose themselves for long periods of the game and they allowed the visitors to keep their interest levels up for far longer than necessary, an early try for Rory Kockett leaving Castres just 9-7 adrift at half-time.
Leinster began with physical intent, trucking it up the middle from an early lineout maul, eventually forcing Scot Richie Gray to concede a penalty for not rolling away from which Gopperth converted the third minute opening score.
A Leinster line-out steal then provided the platform for Gopperth to nail his second penalty when Gray yet again infringed. The home side seemed to be in control.
It was 9-0 after 17 minutes when, after Dulin fumbled Rob Kearney’s raking kick, Leinister won a scrum penalty and they were given a real let-off when Rory Kockett missed a simple penalty chance when the home side made a mess of the restart.
Castres needed a reason to get back into the game. Leinster’s sloppiness afforded them the opportunity.
After spurning a five-metre attacking scrum of their own, Leinster gifted Castres the game’s opening try in the 33rd minute.
Antonie Claassen broke from a cleverly wheeled scrum and freed Kockett to race down the left tramline untouched to score.
He converted and, without doing much, they were only two points behind. Rodrigo Cap Ortega than conceded a silly penalty when dragging down a Leinster maul. Gopperth, who had an indifferent first-half to say the least, pulled the decent chance left and then Kearney also missed left with a speculative 55-yard drop goal attempt.
Castres emerged from the sheds energised by their efforts and they were the more forceful and inventive of the duo in the second-half’s opening throes.
After spurning a clear try chance, Kockett missed a penalty; Leinster were getting all the breaks but struggling to take them.
Mercifully, referee Greg Garner gave them a helping hand. He dished out a very harsh yellow to centre Remi Lamerat for pushing Dave Kearney into touch.
While he was kicking his heels, Leinster struck for the try that calmed the RDS faithful, Jack McGrath marking his Heineken Cup debut from the bench with the diving finish on the hour.
It was the first time Leinster had really spread their attacking wings all afternoon. Gopperth’s conversion pushed the lead to a healthier 16-7.
A third crooked feed to the scrum indicated that Castres were imploding; Gopperth assuredly made his kick Castres’ left empty-handed when Pedrie Wannenburg was denied what seemed to be a legitimate try with three minutes remaining when the TMO decreed the ball had not brushed the touchline.
Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Macken (L Fitzgerald 53), G D'Arcy (I Madigan 70), D Kearney; J Gopperth, I Boss (E Reddan 48); C Healy (J McGrath 55), S Cronin (A Dundon 75), M Moore (M Bent 65), D Toner, M McCarthy (Q Roux 55), K McLaughlin (R Ruddock 70), O'Brien, J Heaslip (c).
Castres Olympique: B Dulin; R Martial, R Cabannes, R Lamerat, M Evans (G Palis 30); R Tales (c), R Kockott (, J Tomas 53); M Lazar (S Taumoepeau 30), B Mach (M-A Rallier 48), A Peikrishvili (K Wihongi 46), R Gray, R Capo Ortega (C Samson 48), J Bornman, P Wannenburg, A Claassen
Referee: G Garner (England)