Clermont boots their way into the Final
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: The boots of Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez has put Clermont into the Champions Cup Final after overcoming a plucky Leinster 27-22 in a pulsating semi-final.
The French Top 14 outfit will face reigning champions Saracens in the May 13 Final in Edinburgh, after the English side beat Munster 26-10 on Saturday.
Lopez kicked two sumptuous drop goals under pressure to help steady Clermont's nerves after Leinster - the competition's top try-scorers - had stormed back from 0-15 and 12-21 down to move to within a single score.
But despite 17 points from the boot of Johnny Sexton at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, three-time former winners Leinster missed out on a first Final appearance since 2012.
Clermont were off to a flying start as Fiji flank Peceli Yato easily won a foot race to dive on David Strettle's chip ahead to open the scoring on four minutes. Morgan Parra converted and added a penalty on nine minutes after Fijian Isa Nacewa was yellow-carded for pulling back Strettle as Clermont were streaking towards a second try.
A man down, Leinster lost their own line-out deep in their territory and Clermont spun the ball wide where Strettle went outside Dan Leavy and cut inside fullback Joey Carbery to score a second try.
Parra missed the conversion though, leaving Clermont 15-0 ahead.
Strettle then made a try-saving tackle as Leinster broke away, taking Carbery around the arms and forcing him into spilling the ball rather than putting Nacewa, who returned from the sin bin, away on the overlap.
Leinster finally started to get a hold in the game but still needed Carbery to make a crucial tackle to stop Scott Spedding adding a third Clermont try. Parra missed a penalty two minutes from half-time and Leinster finally got on the scoreboard just before the break through Sexton's own kick from the tee.
That proved crucial as Leinster were a different proposition after the break and battered away at Clermont, earning three more penalties that Sexton converted. They even seemed to have gone in front on 56 minutes after a break from Fergus McFadden from inside the Irish half ended with Leavy touching down.
But Welsh referee Nigel Owens pulled the game back to give a penalty to Clermont as McFadden's break was helped by Leavy holding back Aurelien Rougerie to create a gap for his wing to exploit.
Parra landed that to give Clermont an 18-12 lead and brought the French fans back into full voice. There was a real feeling that Leinster's chance might have come and gone and Clermont were back in the ascendancy.
Following a period of pressure, flyhalf Lopez kicked a sublime drop goal and Leinster were back to two scores behind.
Yet Garry Ringrose produced an individual moment of brilliance, beating two tacklers and selling a dummy to streak through from inside his own half and run 60 metres to score. Sexton's conversion made it a two-point game with 10 minutes to play.
Leinster were running the ball from deep but crucially gave away a penalty in their own camp as Ringrose held on in the tackle under pressure from Fritz Lee. Lopez nailed the penalty and four minutes from time added another drop goal as Clermont proved clinical when it mattered most.
A minute from time Sexton pulled back three points with his fifth penalty but Leinster still needed a try and when Clermont claimed the restart, Irish hopes were extinguished.
Man of the match: David Strettle was prolific on attack and defence in the opening half while Morgan Parra's service was of the highest order. As a whole, Clermont's defence as a unit was simply sublime in the first half. Joey Carbery proved how dangerous he can be with ball-in-hand as he stepped through numerous tackles. While Jack Conan and Dan Leavy played as though their lives depended on it. Camille Lopez walks away with the award after holding his nerve in the closing stages to slot two drop goals and a penalty that kept Leinster at bay.
Tries: Yato, Strettle
Pens: Parra 2, Lopez
DGs: Lopez 2
Pens: Sexton 5
Yellow card: Isa Nacewa (Leinster, 8 - holding back an opponent)
Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Damien Chouly
(captain), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphael Chaume.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Damien Penaud.
Leinster: 15 Joey Carbery, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa (captain), 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England); Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)