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Leinster go close but left to rue slow start

Clermont 27 Leinster 22

By David Kelly

A season of progress, yes, but Leinster were left wanting so much more in Lyon.

Twenty-four hours after Rassie Erasmus spoke of a massive gulf in class between his Munster side and European champions Saracens, Johnny Sexton lamented the fact that he and his Leinster team won't get a crack at them.

Both Irish provinces got a reality check this weekend after a season of improvement, but the three-time champions found out they are far closer to the top of the tree than their neighbours after running Clermont Auvergne so, so close at Stade Gerland.

They returned to Dublin last night lamenting a slow start in which they were blown away by the relentless yellow machine, but recovered to take full control of the game.

They made their move in the 55th minute, but Nigel Owens and his assistant Ian Davies intervened to quash their ambitions.

Correctly, they ruled that Dan Leavy had held on to Aurelien Rougerie's leg for too long at a ruck deep in Leinster territory. Innocuous, perhaps, but when the gap the big centre left was exploited by a brilliant Sexton pass inside to Fergus McFadden and led to the openside touching down at the other end it proved costly.

Instead of Sexton converting and putting his side in front for the first time, Morgan Parra extended his team's lead. On such moments do games turn.

There was still time for a moment of outrageous magic from Garry Ringrose to drag his side back, but the boot of Camille Lopez saw Clermont home. They deserved it, just about.

"It was a hard game. It was well-contested. I don't think there was much between the sides," Sexton reflected.

"We would have loved to have seen how close we could have gotten to Saracens and we don't get the chance now which is really gutting.

"We'll learn from it and come back stronger I think.

"We spoke about it afterwards, we've got to use this experience and get better for it and try and win the PRO12 now.

"Obviously, we didn't get the rub of the green on a couple of occasions when we needed to put a bit of pressure on them."

Those early stages were poor from Leinster players young and old. Ringrose launched an aimless kick that was punished by Peceli Yato's try, the lineout went to pieces and a pumped-up Isa Nacewa picked up a soft yellow card. "Dumb" was his own description of the incident.

David Strettle added a second try and Leinster had conceded 15 points in as many minutes. Slowly, they worked their way back into the game. Dan Leavy emptied Remi Lamerat, they started to hold on to the ball and they began to resource the ruck and keep the ball. Suddenly, Clermont began to look human and Sexton scored a penalty before half-time.

Having failed to get going in the first half, Leinster utterly dominated after the break and three more Sexton penalties put his side back in the frame.

Then came the Leavy moment. Technically correct, perhaps, but Sexton wasn't convinced.

Parra nudged his side in front and a Lopez drop goal made it a two-score game, but then Ringrose produced the moment of the match with a stunning try from inside his own half that might have had Warren Gatland shifting uncomfortably.

Sexton's conversion reduced the gap to two points, but again the French side re-asserted their control. Lopez kicked a penalty and added a drop goal.

Sexton made it achievable with a penalty, but having worked so hard to get back within range and with 60 minutes on the clock, they failed to catch the restart as Damian Penaud sailed through the air untouched and secured the win.

Belfast Telegraph

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