30 Apr 2012
Clermont vs Leinster - Heineken Cup Semi-Final Review
For Leinster though, a different scenario awaited them, and one which all great teams have to go through to earn that tag of 'greatness'. They were facing a sea of yellow. The men from Dublin had one last wave of ferocious Clermont attackers to ward off. One last heroic and energy sapping burst of heart, grit and determination. A victory would earn them a place in the final of Europe's most illustrious competiton once more...and a chance to cement their place in rugby history as a truly dominant European team. This would be their 3rd final appearance in 4 years after all.
In the end....the game was settled by the tiniest of margins. Leinster finished on top and Clermont were out. The joy and exhuberance was their for all to see on the Leinster players' faces. The relief though was even more palpable. It had taken a monumental effort. In truth, neither side deserved to lose. Eighty minutes of this titanic struggle had been split by the tiniest of margins; effectively the width of Wesley Fofana's bicep. He had seemingly won the tie in the most dramatic of fashions but all was not what it seemed....
The video footage was conclusive. Fofana had placed the ball on his arm rather than the turf in the process of losing the ball foward.Wayne Barnes rightly whistled for 'NO TRY' and there it was. Clermont's opportunity had gone. The men from Montferrand had come agonisingly close but had fallen short...again.
Always the Bridesmaids...never the Bride
Perennially the bridesmaids in French rugby and never the bride; 2012 was meant to be Clermont's in Europe. Ten consecutive losses in French Top 14 finals had understandably focused them on earning the tag of Champions of France first. In all honesty, Europe had been an afterthought. Their victory in the 2010 Top 14 final had changed things though. Europe was now the priority.
The game started at a frantic pace. Leinster beginning gloriously, passing the ball wide after accepting the kickoff, and showing quick hands from Rob Kearney amongst others to allow Isa Nacewa the tiniest of margins to scurry down the right touchline. He was brought down, but Leinster's attacking intent from deep inside their own half was shown. Clermont may have been unbeaten in 42 consecutive home games, but Leinster were not going to surrender. If they were to go down, they were to go down fighting.
Vulcan Death Grip
The first half was a real arm wrestle, ending in Clermont's favour by 12 points to 6. Four penalties came from Australian import Brock James for Clermont, while Jonny Sexton was successful with his two attempts. As well as Leinster started the match, Clermont were beginning to win the ascendency battle.
As former England centre Will Greenwood alluded during the half-time break of Sky's coverage of the match...Clermont (a team affectionately known as the Vulcans by their fans) seemed to have Leinster in a 'Vulcan death grip'. Their power was immense and the ferocity of their tight five was at times unbelievable. At times they seemed to devour all that was in front of them. Clermont props Lionel Faure and Davit Zirakashvilli were huge around the park and dominant at the set-piece. Leinster it seemed were pleading for the half-time whistle. Something needed to be done to halt the Clermont charge.
Whatever Leinster coach Joe Schmidt said during the break had a real effect. Memories of this game could have been synonomous with Wesley Fofana's last minute effort if he had touched down correctly....instead it will be remembered for 10 minutes of 'Keaney time'.
Creaking Set Piece
Clermont coach Vern Cotter attempted to reverse the momentum Leinster had built by making some substitutions, most notably taking off the two props mentioned earlier; Faure and Zuratkashvilli. The influence of those decisions were not for the better. Clermont's scrum and lineout, normally dominant weapons, began to creak. Brock James also horribly missed an attempt at goal to cut down the lead, evoking memories of his dreadful display in a quarterfinal between the two teams a couple of years ago. His temperament was questioned once more.
With 2 minutes left though, Clermont still managed to force their way up field. Sivivatu used his magical toes to help Clermont gain some yards before things clicked into gear for the hosts as they surged towards the line. Fofana knocked on and the rest was history.
If Clermont continue to play with such passion, there time will surely come. They have far too much quality in their ranks to not succeed eventually and the belief is building. Leinster though showed their champions quality and had that bit of luck that you need to win on the big occasions. They were tested to the fullest and this result arguably eclipsed their victory over Munster at Croke Park in the Heineken cup Semi in 2009. Leinster will now face Ulster at Twickenham in the Final of the Heineken Cup to earn the crown 'Champions of Europe 2012'.
If you found this interesting you may also enjoy this article:
'Ireland's Coaching Vacuum'