Rampant Leinster secure crucial bonus point victory
Leinster 50 Castres 8
Leinster moved one step closer to the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup by swatting aside a feeble Castres challenge to finish an otherwise dismal day for Irish rugby on a high note.
Matt O'Connor's men sizzled in the RDS ice box in front of 18,018 fans and the rampaging men in blue had the required bonus point sewn up by the break.
All eyes now turn to Coventry next week; Wasps will be stiffer opposition but it seems clear that Leinster's accuracy and vibrancy has returned in spades; not a bad time to start picking up momentum.
Before tonight, Leinster had not lost a home game to Gallic visitors in 19 attempts; Castres had never tasted victory on Irish soil in their entire, undistinguished European history. We would soon find out why.
The home side needed to start with intent; they laid down a marker when their scrum, minus Mike Ross, overturned a first-minute push.
Castres then conceded a half-way penalty and within seconds they were under their posts contemplating a long evening.
Clean off the top ball from the kick to touch was swept inside to Jimmy Gopperth; Ian Madigan's slick inside ball allowed Dave Kearney to take advantage of a huge hole in the French defence.
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His finish thereafter was unhurried; he dotted down with 2:51 on the clock; Madigan converted and the Leinster fans were already warming their hands to greet the 7-0 lead.
With a bonus point the carrot, getting a quarter way there so early was a boon; sloppy play gave the supposed fall guys an even break though and Castres threatened against narrow defence on a couple of occasions while Leinster turned over twice in opposition territory.
In the 14th minute, they kicked for the corner and were deservedly repelled; they were forgetting the lesson of scoreboard pressure. And, after a few minutes of sevens-type rugby, Leinster forgot the lesson again. And turned over again.
Despite Marty Moore's early success, Michael Bent was then turned over in a scrum and Rory Kockott made it 7-3 after 22 minutes; hubris was stinging a home side who aren't good enough to be that cocky. Bent repaid the error with a stern tackle to earn his side an immediate response; even the crowd ironically cheered as captain Jamie Heaslip pointed to the posts; Madigan dissected them for 10-3.
Refocused, Leinster attacked strongly with Sean Cronin leading the charge and Fergus McFadden jinking beautifully; Castres were struggling and Ibrahim Diarra was correctly binned in the 27th minute for winning the laziest runner of the year award.
After kicking to the corner - the right decision this time against 14 men - Leinster formed an industrious maul which ended with Moore confirming his good early impression with the touchdown. Madigan added easy extras for 17-3. Castres were still in the game; Marcel Garvey had a try controversially chalked off after good defensive double-teaming by Cronin and Madigan.
The TMO was called upon in the game's final play; this time, it also benefited Leinster as Eoin Reddan plunged over from short range after a delicious off-load from Jordi Murphy.
At 24-3, the corpulent choir singer was already rinsing her tonsils. Sean Cronin's gleeful gallop on the half-time whistle, a score emphasising Leinster's sparking interplay between backs and forwards, secured the bonus point and the evening was now an exercise in mere accountancy.
The second-half, predictably, was less frenetic although Tadhg Furlong added a fifth try, and his second in a week; again there was some sublime play, Richardt Strauss taking a superb inside line off Madigan before feeding the Wexford man.
Leinster had the luxury of emptying their entire bench and the last man on, Darragh Fanning, scored his side's eighth try with his first touch in the 68th minute; Madigan messed up the conversion. Luke McGrath dotted down too.
Romain Martial responded for Castres as the fans drifted towards the exits. A late try for the opposition now didn't matter; next week it will.
Leinster: R Kearney (D Fanning 68); F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, I Madigan, D Kearney; J Gopperth (G D'Arcy 63), E Reddan (L McGrath 59); M Bent (J Hagan 51), S Cronin (R Strauss 51), M Moore (T Furlong 51), D Toner, M McCarthy (K Douglas 63), J Conan, J Murphy, J Heaslip capt (D Ryan 51).
Castres: J Dumora; R Martial, T Combezou, R Cabannes capt (R Tales 59), M Garvey (A Dupont 67); D Kirkpatrick (R Grosso 64), R Kockott; S Taumoepeau (P Fa'anunu 59), M-A Rallier (M Bonelle 59), R Herrera, R Gray, C Samson (B Desroches 48), I Diarra, J Bornman (P Faasalele 49), J Beattie.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR).