Thursday 26 April 2018

Blues' dream melts in the sunshine as Clermont are Kings of Lyon

Leinster fans Jenny O’Connor, from Dublin, and Ailsa Hughes, from Tullamore, Co Offaly, with a Clermont supporter Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster fans Jenny O’Connor, from Dublin, and Ailsa Hughes, from Tullamore, Co Offaly, with a Clermont supporter Photo: Sportsfile

Rory Tevlin in Lyon

Leinster felt the blues of an agonising defeat to European aristocrats Clermont. The French team advance to the Champions Cup final but Leinster can hold their heads high and wonder what might have been.

The Blues gave their all in a match that had brute physicality but was illuminated by the dancing feet of Garry Ringrose and Leinster's young stars.

Clermont fans Megane (21) and Roxane (23). Photo: Romain Lafabregue
Clermont fans Megane (21) and Roxane (23). Photo: Romain Lafabregue

The unfamiliar day-glo yellow strip was somewhat jarring for the travelling faithful who hoped Leinster could be crowned Kings of Lyon. The 15-0 scoreline early in the first half was even more of a shock. If it wasn't for the garish jerseys, it would have been hard to tell that Leinster had even turned up.

But in the end Clermont were made to sweat in the sunshine for their 27-22 win.

There was a carnival atmosphere ahead of the match yesterday as both sets of fans streamed into the city.

Two early morning flights from Dublin ferried reinforcements for the Blue Army and there was cautious optimism among the travelling brigade.

Father and daughter Liam (55) and Jen Duggan (24) from Dublin said they were hoping to make it to a fourth final following Leinster.

Liam explained: "After Munster losing, it should spur on Leinster even more. We have been to three European Cup finals.

Leinster fans in the crowd during the match Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster fans in the crowd during the match Photo: Sportsfile

"We have the hotel booked for Edinburgh and the final."

Lyon may have been a neutral venue - but the yellow of Clermont outnumbered the travelling fans by more than 10 to one.

As kick-off approached, Clermont fans took over the streets as they quaffed red wine and beers from the back of parked cars.

Clermont diehard Pierre Carteron (32) knows all about the tough days his side has faced in this competition.

Pierre explained that there was a close bond between Leinster and Clermont fans after years of battles between the sides.

While Leinster were outnumbered, they still made their presence felt as fans camped out on the banks of the Saône from early afternoon.

Colin Campbell (39) had made the trip from Newcastle to support the Irish side. He said: "It is probably a bit odd to see a six-foot-six Geordie here, but I have been going to games for years. My girlfriend is from Dublin, so I am an adopted fan."

Former Leinster player Gerry Morrissey said: "It is a 60/40 chance. Leinster have a good team, a good attack, the young lads won't stop.

"Ringrose, [Joey] Carbery, Luke McGrath, [Jack] Conan, they are top young players."

Those youthful tyros are unlikely to ever have experienced the cauldron they faced yesterday though.

Leinster felt the heat as Clermont tore into the Irish side from the first whistle.

Clermont fans were silenced for a time as it looked like a glorious comeback could be on the cards, but the French side kept Leinster at bay to the final whistle as Clermont fans invaded the pitch.

Aidan Gordon (45) from Dublin rued what might have been after the titanic tussle. He said: "The first half killed us. We had the chance to get ahead and I think we would have won it at that stage."

As the final whistle blew, the Leinster players gathered in a huddle. They had given their all - but on this day, against a fearsome Clermont team, it just wasn't enough.

Irish Independent

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