Sunday 22 April 2018

Five epic Heineken Cup performances from Leinster in France

Leinster will be hoping for another massive display in France this weekend when they head to Toulon

Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll during their epic semi-final win over Clermont in 2012
Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll during their epic semi-final win over Clermont in 2012
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Matt O'Connor's Leinster face a daunting task in dethroning reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon on Sunday but their record on French soil gives them cause for optimism.

Here we look back at five amazing Leinster performances against the cream of the Top 14:

1 -- APRIL 29, 2012

Semi-final: Clermont 15 Leinster 19

Although they have won three finals in the last five years, possibly Leinster's best win came in the 2011/12 semi-final on a hot Sunday afternoon in Bordeaux.

The two best teams in the competition, Clermont and Leinster had already built a rivalry over the past number of seasons and Joe Schmidt's side faced a stadium packed with passionate fans decked out in yellow when they arrived at the Stade Chaban Demas.

The New Zealander's former club were packed with talented internationals under Vern Cotter's tutelage and they threw all of their power at the Irish province, who produced a spectacular defensive effort to repel them time and again.

Leinster trailed 12-6 at the end of a bruising first half during which they were clinging on at times, but a trademark Schmidt move involving Richardt Strauss and Rob Kearney unlocked the Clermont defence for Cian Healy to score, while the full-back added a drop-goal to give his side a cushion.

Back came Clermont, but Johnny Sexton's boot kept them at arm's length until an epic final five minutes saw Leinster put up their greatest rearguard action as they repelled drive after drive for their line.

There was some fortune as Wesley Fofana knocked on over the line, but their heroic effort got its reward.

2 -- APRIL 1, 2006

Quarter-final: Toulouse 35 Leinster 41

Probably Leinster's most stylish win, it is tainted somewhat by their failure to back it up in the Lansdowne Road semi-final against Munster.

But taken in isolation, this performance in Toulouse was simply breathtaking as Michael Cheika's men scored a series of scintillating tries in one of the best games the tournament has seen.

To score four tries against the then European champions in their own back yard was impressive, but even more so was the manner in which Leinster scored them as Felipe Contepomi's backline struck from everywhere on the field in a relentless display of attacking prowess.

The Argentinian put the visitors' noses in front with three penalties, before Shane Horgan and Contepomi combined to set up Brian O'Driscoll's try, but Toulouse cut the gap to a point before Cameron Jowitt capitalised on Freddie Michalak's poor pass to score.

Denis Hickie then scored a try to remember from inside his own '22', playing a neat one-two with Gordon D'Arcy before crashing over, and Horgan finished the job with a score of his own to cap one of the great days.

3 -- JANUARY 12, 2014

Pool 1: Castres 22 Leinster 29

Sunday's win was arguably Leinster's best pool win in France as they came from 14-0 down to break down the fortress walls at Castres.

Make no mistake, the three-time champions were in real trouble during the first half of the game but, as Rob Kearney alluded to afterwards, the experience of their recent successes kicked in and they got themselves out of a hole in some style.

Castres were down a number of key players and lost the influential Remi Tales during the first half, but those selected brought their 'A' game as Remi Lamerat and Ibrahim Diarra in particular caused no end of problems for the Irish province.

Jimmy Gopperth stole the headlines with his 21-point haul, but it was the scramble defence that won this game for Leinster, with Dave Kearney and Jack McGrath excelling, while replacements Shane Jennings and Cian Healy also had a big impact.

In previous years Leinster would never have come back from a deficit like that against such worthy opponents, but they proved how far they have come.

4 -- DECEMBER 7, 2002

Pool 4: Montferrand 20 Leinster 23

DJ Carey played a prominent off-field role in Leinster's first European Cup win on French soil as coach Matt Williams asked the former Kilkenny hurler to speak to the players before the game.

And the preparation worked a treat as Hickie's late try and Brian O'Meara's conversion finally saw the province beat a French side in France at the seventh time of asking.

"It was a real hang-up for Irish teams going to France in Europe," captain Leo Cullen recalled later. "It was always a step into the unknown, you didn't really know what it was like and the grounds felt hostile.

"DJ's big thing was having no fear. His presence around the place was a nice thing at the time. It was just someone from a different sport who everyone respected and it was a good weekend."

It got the ball rolling for the province, who would of course go on to bigger and better things.

5 -- DECEMBER 16, 2006

Pool 2: Agen 13 Leinster 25

Hickie again played a prominent role, scoring another try as Leinster saw off a difficult Agen side which featured the flawed Fijian magician Rupeni Caucaunibuca, who scored a scintillating try.

The scoreline flattered the Irish province somewhat, as they needed a late Andy Dunne drop-goal to give themselves breathing space before Ronan McCormack's injury-time try added some gloss.

Needing to win to edge a tight pool, Leinster showed signs of their growing maturity and strength of character in Europe with this deserved and hard-fought win.

Irish Independent

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