|European Champions Cup|
|Clermont (15) 27|
|Tries: Yato, Strettle Con: Parra Pens: Parra 2, Lopez Drop-goals: Lopez 2|
|Leinster (3) 22|
|Try: Ringrose Con: Sexton Pens: Sexton 5|
Clermont Auvergne will play holders Saracens in the final of the Champions Cup after surviving a thrilling Leinster fightback in Lyon.
A stunning start saw tries from Peceli Yato and David Strettle help Clermont into an early 15-0 lead.
Four penalties from Johnny Sexton then cut the gap to three but a Morgan Parra penalty and Camille Lopez drop-goal seemed to have won it.
Garry Ringrose’s score cut the gap to two but Lopez’s boot saw Clermont home.
Clermont – two-time finalists but yet to win the tournament – will meet Saracens in Edinburgh on Saturday, 13 May.
Clermont storm out of the blocks
Clermont are the nearly men of French rugby, having lost to Toulon in Europe’s top club tournament in the 2013 and 2015 finals, and won only one of their 12 French finals – and that at the 11th attempt.
But they started as a side used to the biggest stages, and their early pressure brought them deserved tries from the impressive Fiji flanker Yato and livewire former England winger Strettle.
Both sides are attack-minded but Leinster were struggling to get hold of the ball and it was not until the end of the half they finally enjoyed some pressure of their own.
Ireland fly-half Sexton got them on the board with the last kick of a half in which they had been totally outplayed.
The decisive moment
Leinster needed to start the second half the better and duly attacked from deep on their first possession.
They proceeded to come at Clermont from every angle, with three quick penalties enabling Sexton to cut the gap to only three points.
Then came the decisive moment of the game.
The supporting Dan Leavy thought he had scored for Leinster, but the television match official had noticed an infringement back at the start of the move.
His eagle eyes spotted that flanker Leavy himself had held on to Aurelien Rougerie at a ruck to open the gap Leinster had first streamed through 60 metres back upfield.
Not only did Leinster have the try struck off but they also conceded a penalty, which Parra stroked over to put Clermont further ahead.
Ringrose brilliance in vain
Lopez banged over a drop-goal from distance to put Clermont more than seven points clear, only for Ireland centre Ringrose to score a fine converted try and cut the gap to two points.
But the outstanding Fritz Lee won the latest in a series penalties at a ruck to halt a Leinster attack and Lopez’s accurate boot did the rest to send Clermont into the final.
What did the players make of it?
Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton:
“I felt that we could still win it at half-time. We should have made them work harder for their scores – they got a 15-point head-start.
“We were beaten by an impressive side, who have been impressive all year. We have to take our hats off and say they were better than us.”
Clermont’s ex-England & Saracens wing David Strettle:
“We always knew they would have a purple patch. We had to start well, hold on when they got on top after half-time and then finish strongly.
“I think Saracens have got better since I left, but I can see in the two years that I have been here how important this tournament is to the club.”
Clermont Auvergne: Spedding; Strettle, Rougerie, Lamerat, Abendanon; Lopez, Parra; Chaume, Kayser, Zirakashvili, Iturria, Vahaamahina, Chouly, Yato, Lee.
Replacements: Penaud for Rougerie (56), Fernandez for Lamerat (65), Radosavljevic for Parra (69), Falgoux for Chaume (64), Ulugia for Kayser (53), Jarvis for Zirakashvili (64), Jedrasiak for Vahaamahina (69), Lapandry for Yato (53).
Leinster: Carbery; McFadden, G Ringrose, Henshaw, Nacewa; Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, Strauss, Furlong, Toner, Triggs, Ruddock, Leavy, Conan.
Replacements: Kirchner for Carbery (71), Gibson-Park for L. McGrath (64), Dooley for J. McGrath (60), Cronin for Strauss (49), Bent for Furlong (71), Molony for Triggs (60), van der Flier for Leavy (64).
Not Used: R Byrne.
Sin Bin: Nacewa (8).
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