Jack McGrath’s first Heineken Cup try lifted Leinster to their second pool win as they beat a bruising Castres Olympique side at the RDS…Matt O’Connor post-match reaction…
Traditionally poor travellers in this tournament, the reigning French champions leaked three penalties to Jimmy Gopperth before a converted try from Rory Kockott gave them a shot in the arm before the interval.
But Castres crucially failed to turn pressure into points in the third quarter and with centre Remi Lamerat in the sin-binned, replacement prop Jack McGrath wrestled free to grab the game's decisive score in the 62nd minute.
Gopperth converted and tagged on a fourth penalty and frustrated Castres suffered a second sin-binning in the closing stages – replacement scrum half Julien Tomas saw yellow for a succession of crooked feeds.
Speaking afterwards, Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor said: "I certainly think we got out of jail with regards to them getting nothing (no bonus point). I don't think we got out of jail with regards to the result.
"In the first half we were, by far, the better side. They got a lucky score and we didn't capitalise on our opportunities. They came back hard in the second half but we'll take the four points.
"Castres are a quality side. They are physically massive as a group. You don't fluke it and win the Top 14 unless you've got a really good squad…we put a lot of holes in them but didn't capitalise.
"It is one of those things. You take the four points and make sure we are better next time."
Led out by Fergus McFadden and Kevin McLaughlin on their 100th appearances, Leinster quickly set about testing the French side's defence.
There was a welcome blast of sunshine for the kick-off, replacing the earlier heavy rain, and Gopperth capped off a similarly bright opening for his side with a third minute penalty.
Rob Kearney did well to hack on a Gopperth cross-field kick before Castres broke from deep, Kockott and centres Lamerat and Romain Cabannes all featuring in a rare free-flowing attack from the French outfit.
But, for the most part, Leinster controlled the opening half hour’s play and an offside decision allowed Gopperth to make it 6-0 in the 12th minute.
The New Zealander’s third successful penalty rewarded a solid home scrum which included young tighthead Martin Moore, and Kockott snatched badly at his first chance to respond.
However, the hosts were unable to make the most of a typically thunderous burst from Sean O’Brien, and a couple of midfield turnovers that followed.
Castres made them pay with an opportunist try from Kockott in the 33rd minute, the scrum half streaking away down the blindside after a wheeling scrum and a well-timed feed from Antonie Claassen.
McFadden was left isolated as the visitors executed a two-on-one break and Kockott confidently knocked over the 40-metre conversion to close the gap to 9-7.
Gopperth missed a penalty effort before half-time and Castres, with replacement prop Saimone Taumoepeau making an impact up front, restarted in fine fettle.
Full-back Brice Dulin gathered his own chip and had to be hauled down in the Leinster 22, and Tales’ dinked kick just went over the end line as Geoffrey Palis chased it down.
The addition of Karena Wihongi further boosted the Castres scrum and their dominance of the third quarter should have led to points, but Kockott sent a long range penalty wide.
Leinster relieved the pressure as Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney got ball in hand, the latter being the victim of a ‘no arms’ tackle from Lamerat that saw the Castres centre sin-binned.
14-man Castres showed no signs of wilting, but a tenacious turnover from replacement Eoin Reddan launched Leinster forward and they needed no second invitation.
McFadden drew a defender to release David Kearney on the left and his brother Rob got involved in the Castres 22, before McGrath broke Wihongi's tackle close in and crashed over beside the right hand post.
Gopperth’s conversion gave Leinster some much-needed breathing space at nine points up, and the man-of-the-match completed his 14-point tally as Matt O'Connor's men remained workmanlike until the end.
They needed to be resolute in defence as despite losing Tomas in the 70th minute, Castres almost landed a late losing bonus point – TMO Graham Hughes ruled out a lunge at the line from Pedrie Wannenburg who was adjudged to be inches short.
LEINSTER SCORERS: J. McGrath (1 try), J. Gopperth (1 conversion and 4 penalties)
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE SCORERS: R. Kockott (1 try and 1 conversion)
15: Rob Kearney
14: Fergus McFadden
13: Brendan Macken (Luke Fitzgerald, 53)
12: Gordon D'Arcy (Ian Madigan, 70)
11: Dave Kearney
10: Jimmy Gopperth
9: Isaac Boss (Eoin Reddan, 48)
1: Cian Healy (Jack McGrath, 55)
2: Sean Cronin (Aaron Dundon, 74)
3: Martin Moore (Michael Bent, 64)
4: Devin Toner
5: Mike McCarthy (Quinn Roux, 55)
6: Kevin McLaughlin (Rhys Ruddock, 70)
7: Sean O'Brien
8: Jamie Heaslip CAPTAIN
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE: B Dulin; R Martial, R Cabannes, R Lamerat, M Evans; R Tales CAPTAIN, R Kockott; M Lazar, B Mach, A Peikrishvili, R Gray, R Capo Ortega, J Bornman, P Wannenburg, A Claassen.
REPLACEMENTS: M-A Rallier, K Wihongi, S Taumoepeau, C Samson, I Diarra, J Tomas, G Palis, D Kirkpatrick.
REFEREE: Greg Garner (RFU), ASSISTANT REFEREES: Martin Fox (RFU), Robin Goodliffe (RFU), 4th OFFICIAL: Eanna O'Dowd (IRFU), 5th OFFICIAL: Gary Glennon (IRFU), TMO: Graham Hughes (RFU).