Wednesday 17 January 2018

Rampant Blues storm into final

Leinster 44 Biarritz 16

Jamie Heaslip is tackled by Dimitri Yachvili and Yann Lesgourues at the RDS yesterday.
Jamie Heaslip is tackled by Dimitri Yachvili and Yann Lesgourues at the RDS yesterday.
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It wasn't the Heineken Cup but it felt like it. A lovely sunny afternoon and a full house at the RDS, and Leinster playing quality rugby in front of an appreciative crowd.

It wasn't the Heineken Cup but it felt like it. A lovely sunny afternoon and a full house at the RDS, and Leinster playing quality rugby in front of an appreciative crowd.

The fact that it was the Amlin rather than the main attraction is something Leinster have learned to live with. The reward is to return to the same venue on May 17 to take on Stade Francais in the final.

There won't be a Lions delegation in attendance that night but their presence in the stand yesterday added to the occasion for a handful of those in blue. Rob Howley, Graham Rowntree and Neil Jenkins fetched up to watch Ireland's contenders for Australia and they will bring positive reports back to Warren Gatland, especially on man of the match Jamie Heaslip, whose two tries were perfectly timed, given the squad announcement on Tuesday.

Brian O'Driscoll's performance one way or the other wasn't an issue regarding the trip Down Under, but his second-half try sparked a round of 'Four More Years' from the crowd. It is remarkable, given the miles on the clock, that his engine is running so smoothly. As for his appetite for hard work, he devoured Aled Brew in a tackle that led directly to one of Leinster's five tries – this one for Isa Nacewa, who is winding down his career in Dublin in some style.

By the end the French couldn't get it over with soon enough, which was a long way removed from their feistiness for the first hour, especially the first half. They wouldn't be one of the best sides to watch, relying on a big pack to biff them forward over and again. When it's done well it's very effective – when not they get done for sealing off and referee Wayne Barnes picked them up on it a few times as they were looking to bludgeon Leinster into submission.

The killer period for the away team came just before the break. Dimitri Yachvili, a narky little man when he doesn't get his own way, had closed the gap to a point after Shane Jennings had been caught in an offside position, catching a spill from Nacewa. Some teams would be happy to get off the pitch and reassess their situation but to their credit Leinster made remarkable use of the remaining two minutes.

First Sexton got over close to the sticks after a good combination between O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney, with the fullback running a nice line, and then Heaslip touched down for his second, after a fractured few phases, when he scooped up a ball from the edge of a ruck and raced over from 20 metres.

That passage of play transformed a 10-9 scoreline into a game-winning 24-9 one, and the home team headed off happily to the changing room.

All areas of their game were in working order, the least impressive perhaps being their lineout, which coughed up three balls. That said, a lovely set-piece move with Devin Toner, who had a fine game, taking a ball off the tail the deflecting it perfectly into the hands of the onrushing Nacewa, was sublime and opened the door for Heaslip's first try.

That came in the fifth minute and before the quarter was out the game could have been wrapped up. Sexton, playing his second game after running into injury cul de sacs in the Six Nations, was held up over the line by a great tackle by Takudswa Ngwenya. A 14-point lead, even at that stage, would have been irretrievable for Biarritz. Instead they got territory on the next play and Yachvili started chipping away. He knocked over two penalties to make it 7-6, and then another one to go 10-9 after Sexton had slotted one for Leinster.

On the evidence of this, the Leinster 10 will be up to speed by the time his season is done, with a possible four games left to play between the run-in to the Pro12 – they play the Ospreys in the RDS on Friday night – and the Amlin final.

He went off midway through the second half allowing Ian Madigan shift to outhalf. It would be a fairly big call for Gatland to bring Madigan to Australia as his utility back but at least it was another positive performance from him.

Early in the second period he raced 60 metres after picking up a spill by Imanol Harinordoquy only to be hauled down by Ngwenya, who was then carded for killing the ball a few metres from his line. That led to further pain for Biarritz, with Sexton pushing the score out to 27-9.

Nacewa and O'Driscoll followed up with tries to add further colour to the occasion and everyone in blue went home happy.

Not quite Heineken Cup happy, but happy nonetheless.

Scorers – Leinster: J Heaslip 2 tries; I Nacewa, B O'Driscoll try each; J Sexton try, 2 pens, 3 cons; I Madigan pen, 2 cons. Biarritz: A Huguy try; D Yachvili 3 pens, con.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden (A Conway 68), B O'Driscoll, I Madigan, I Nacewa; J Sexton (A Goodman 52), I Boss (J Cooney 65); C Healy (J McGrath 65), R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt)(Q Roux 65), D Toner, K McLaughlin (R Ruddock 68), J Heaslip (K McLaughlin 80), S Jennings.

Biarritz: M Bosch; T Ngwenya (yc 44-54), B Baby (Y Lesgourges h-t), D Traille (S Borotu 57), A Brew (T Thomas 73); JP Barraque, D Yachvili; T Synaeghel (E van Staden 51), A Heguy (B August 74), B Broster, E Lund, IP Taele, T Dubarry,I Harinordoquy, R Lakafia (W Lauret 58).

Referee: W Barnes (Eng)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport