Leinster prove too strong for Castres
MATCH REPORT: Leinster Rugby snatched a 33-15 victory against Castres Olympique to get their European Rugby Championship Cup campaign off to a good start in Dublin.
Sean Cronin's two first half tries put Leinster on the right path as the Ireland hooker finished two devastating lineout drives from the Leinster pack to put the hosts in charge at the RDS Showground. But the biggest cheer was for his front-row partner Jack McGrath, who celebrated his 100th appearance for the province with a try.
A penalty try for Castres just before half-time threatened to disrupt Leinster's dominance but man of the match Isa Nacewa's solo-try early in the second half ensured maximum points for the former European champions.
Castres had not tasted success in this competition since 2013, losing their last seven on the road, and facing an uphill task early on in Dublin. Nacewa missed his first effort at goal after a high tackle on Cronin. But the hooker dusted himself off to finish a drive set-up by the towering Devon Toner after just eight minutes.
All eyes were on Jonathan Sexton's young deputy, Joey Carvery, and the flyhalf almost snatched an interception with an acrobatic effort.
Gary Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw went close but Castres defended valiantly while No.8 Alex Tulou, the top ball-carrier in the Top 14, proved a threat. Cronin then peeled off another drive on 26 minutes, stepping past one defender and spinning out a challenge for his second try.
Rob Kearney's high tackle on livewire scrumhalf Antoine Dupont enabled Benjamin Urdapilleta to claw back three points. Prop McGrath had his special moment on 32 minutes when he picked up and crashed over after Luke McGrath was stopped short.
The scrumhalf was then frustrated at the other try line when he was shown a yellow card and conceded a penalty try after diving in as the Castres pack rumbled over. Urdapilleta's conversion narrowed the gap to 19-10 on the stroke of half-time.
Yet with just 14 men, Leinster and in particular Nacewa, showed their class as the full-back picked up and brushed off two tackles as he galloped over for the bonus-point score that he converted himself.
Castres then lost Thibault Lassale to the sin bin and Leinster's scrum, now bolstered by a fresh Mike Ross, capitalised, turning the screw until referee Matthew Carley awarded another penalty try.
The 14 men of Castres managed a response as 20-year-old rookie Anthony Jelonch dived over but Leinster were not to be denied.
Tries: Cronin 2, McGrath, Nacewa, Penalty Try
Cons: Nacewa 4
For Castres Olympique:
Tries: Penalty Try, Jelonch
Yellow Cards: Luke McGrath (Leinster), Thibault Lassale (Castres Olympique)
Leinster Rugby: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Zane Kirchner, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa (captain), 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Mike Ross, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Noel Reid.
Castres Olympique: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Remi Grosso, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 David Smith, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Steve Mafi, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega (captain), 4 Victor Moreaux, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Antoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Brice Mach, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Damien Tussac, 19 Thibault Lassale, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Maxime Javaux, 23 Florian Vialelle
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Steve Lee (England)
TMO: David Sainsbury (England)