Birthday bonus for O'Driscoll
Racing Metro 11 Leinster 36
Published 22/01/2011 | 05:00
Leinster will keep the home fires burning in the Heineken Cup.
Joe Schmidt's side guaranteed a money-spinning quarter-final in Dublin after a scintillating display of red-hot rugby on a bitterly cold evening in the north-west suburbs of Paris, a bonus-point franking their status as one of the favourites to lift this crown in Cardiff next May.
Birthday boy Brian O'Driscoll decorated a five-star performance to add to tries from Isa Nacewa, the unstoppable Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Sexton (two) to roll over the second-best team in France, a week after destroying the second-best team in England.
The win came at a slight price though as Leinster coach Schmidt revealed the loose-head prop Cian Healy went off with a hip problem, although the Clontarf man was able to return as a second-half blood-bin replacement for Jason Harris-Wright.
"Yeah, Cian took a bit of a knock there but he was able to come on at the end and throw the ball in so hopefully he'll be alright," said Schmidt. "As regards Jamie Heaslip, he's being done on a softly, softly basis and I'm not sure about the Six Naitons.
"He's back in the Irish camp for a few days this past week so they'll have a better handle on how he's doing.
"Overall, I'm delighted with the manner in which he got through tonight. We didn't make things easy for ourselves but then they're not a side who'll make it easy for you.
"I've not thought about the venue for the quarter-final. When I was woken up in New Zealand to be told the draw seven months ago, I couldn't get to sleep so I'm just happy we're through."
After a stuttering start, Leinster were soon into their stride, their powerful concoction of power and precision invariably carving open a Racing side admittedly with one eye on next week's crunch Top 14 clash. Still, Leinster could afford no hiccups and they recovered instantly from Juan Martin Hernandez's opening penalty.
Leinster's willingness to try things was emphasised injudiciously by a loose pass from Luke Fitzgerald and, when Gordon D'Arcy chipped the cover deep in Racing territory, he unwittingly placed his side on the back foot.
Dan Scarborough counter-attacked down the left tramline, skipping past Isaac Boss before dinking a ball infield for his marauding chasers. Thankfully, Fitzgerald was there to raise the alarm and despite a quick recycle, Leinster managed to fill the necessary breach.
It didn't take Leinster long to calm their nerves with a superb opening try. It arrived off multiple phases, with backs interlinking seamlessly with forwards. They constantly changed the point of attack, whether through Healy's forward drive or O'Driscoll's soft hands. Ultimately, Leinster scored simply off a routine left to right move through the hands, with Nacewa's dart under the posts ensuring that Sexton's conversion for 3-7 was rudimentary.
Back came Racing, though, with the intent of both sides clearly to play it as loose as possible, but Hernandez missed a penalty. Leinster's relief was brief.
The young Fijian, Verimi Vakatawa, danced down the right touchline past a host of woefully flailing would-be tacklers, the last of which -- Boss -- pounded his fists on the floor in fury.
Leinster remained unnerved. Soon they were prowling in Racing territory again, courtesy of a barrelling run from that man O'Brien, who launched himself like a gazelle through a parting tide of blue and white jerseys, kicking ahead before only the merest toe in touch mocked his charge.
He would not be denied. Leinster encroached with sufficient pressure upon the French side's set-piece to cause a turnover. Instantly, O'Brien was released and he launched an unstoppable charge just metres from the line. Sexton added easy extras for 8-14.
Leinster's third try in the 23rd minue easily surpassed their first in terms of ingenuity. O'Driscoll's majestic, looped pass switched play from right to left, Fitzgerald sashayed, Nacewa shimmied and D'Arcy stepped in to create the space for Sexton to glide in unchallenged. It was a masterpiece of deception and invention. Sexton converted for 8-21.
Hernandez added another penalty but Leinster were still capable of reining down terror on Racing's half. Shane Horgan's brilliantly collected restart offered field position, but handling foiled Leinster. Then a brief scare for the Blues when Andrea Masi, whom O'Driscoll and co will encounter in Rome two weeks hence, danced through unscathed only to falter at the formidable hands of the scintillating Nacewa.
Some forceful momentum from O'Brien, surely now a shoo-in for the Irish team to face Italy, and his back-row partner Rhys Ruddock, ensured that Leinster forced a penalty in the 54th minute which enabled Leinster to push even further ahead, 11-24.
Just past the hour mark, Leinster had completed their business, Sexton finishing from Nacewa's pass to secure his second try and the bonus point win for his side; in truth, Racing were a beaten force from just before half-time.
There was even enough time for Sean O'Brien to toss a ball into the line-out when replacement Jason Harris-Wright was blood-binned.
Is there anything this man cannot do?
Racing Metro 92 -- D Scarbrough; B Fall, V Vakatawa, A Masi, J Saubade; J Hernandez (M Loree 55), N Durand capt (F Steyn 69); J Brugnaut (A Lo Cicero 55), G Arganese (B Noirot 49), S Zimmermann (B Sa 55), S Dellape (L Nallet 58), F van der Merwe, R Vaquiin (J Cronje 61), B Le Roux (A Battut HT), A Galindo.
Leinster -- I Nacewa; S Horgan (F McFadden HT), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss (E Reddan 63); C Healy (H Van Der Merwe 50), R Strauss (J Harris-Wright 47), M Ross (C Newlands 71), L Cullen [capt], N Hines (D Toner 71), R Ruddock, S Jennings (D Ryan 71), S O'Brien.
Ref -- Greg Garner (England)
- A late try from Ti'i Paulo gave Clermont a crucial bonus point in a 24-14 victory against Saracens to keep up the French team's hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.