leinster made their own luck for epic victory

Eric Miller

This will go down as one of the great semi-finals in a competition that seems to give us something new every year.

Like the Northampton team last year, Rougerie and his men closed ranks at the end of the game knowing that his team will remain a force to be reckoned with for years to come. It was so close but yet so far for a club that has clearly committed itself to achieving Heineken glory. Make no mistake Clermont will be back with a vengeance, but they will no longer be the sleeping giant, lurking in the background.

Leinster started brightly but as the first half wore on you saw that this was going to be trench warfare. Both backlines had each other well marshalled, which meant that the forwards were going to have to go toe to toe. Clermont were on the receiving end of many of the penalty decisions, especially at the breakdown, that kept the Blues ahead on the scoreboard even allowing for the fact that their set piece and kicking game was beginning to creak. This gave Clermont a vital edge as the first half progressed.


At 12-6 down with the French in the ascendancy, on the pitch and now in the stands, half time could not come quick enough for Leinster. I remember thinking that words similar to what was said at half time in last year's final were going to have to be aired if Cullen's men were going to get back in to this one. 12-6 was by no means an insurmountable scoreline but in a game of this nature where the intensity and sheer will to win was evident from both sides, one felt that any five-point scores were going to be difficult to come by.

Healy's try and Kearney's drop goal in that seven-minute period after half time certainly rocked Clermont back on their heels. The initial attack was right out of the Schmidt play book.

To be fair, Cotter's team also tried to expose the blindside off the midfield targets with some success. However, it was the unique variation of Boss on a fake wrap around that created the space on the inside with Strauss's pass to Kearney exploiting much of the space left by the Clermont front five from the set piece.

It was clinical stuff from the champions, whose timely score completely changed the mental state of both sets of players, with the French coming off worst. Leinster began to smell blood and began to suffocate their opposition, continually pinning them back in their own half.

I would love to know Cotter's mindset as he began to ring the changes. I found that the substitution of Nathan Hines was a little hasty and somewhat surprising at such a crucial point of the game. He may not have had the legs for 80 minutes but he had been responsible for the destruction of the Leinster line-out up to that point.

Picture the Clermont forwards working on the Leinster lineout all week, developing a defensive understanding and timing with each other that is near impossible to gauge from the stands. Whatever the reasons, I believe that chemistry was lost subsequent to the Hines' substitution and the ensuing blood injury to Bonnaire. It handed Leinster even more incentive during the same period that Schmidt brought Eoin Reddan and others into the game to ramp up the pressure.

Just as it was beginning to look comfortable for Leinster after another memorable fightback, a silly infringement finally let the French eke their way up the field, knowing they had not tasted the opposition's 22 in the second half. Despite some heroic defence from the Blues, they needed the rub of the green as Fofana fumbled over the try line.

The margins of success and defeat were laid bare, but there is no doubt that the luck often falls on the side of those who have been there and done it before. That proved to be the difference in the end. As we draw breath, a word of caution. How hard will it be for the Blues to replicate that in the final? Ulster now know what it will take to knock the champions off their perch.

The destination of this year's cup is by no means certain.