Clermont will face Saracens in this year's Champions Cup final after they held off a second-half comeback from Leinster, winning 27-22.
The path to the Champions Cup final was always going to be a tricky one to manoeuvre for Leinster. And within 15 minutes, it looked like it was impossible. Peceli Yato and David Strettle helped Clermont to a 15-3 at the break, having scored two tries in the opening quarter of an hour.
Leinster improved though and Johnny Sexton’s four penalties had the visitors within three points midway inside the second half. Clermont kept a sizeable gap until Garry Ringrose went through in a superb solo effort. But despite late pressure, Clermont booked their spot in the final with a 27-22 win.
Saracens' 26-10 victory against Munster ensured they were the first side to book their spot, and Clermont’s opening quarter of an hour almost guaranteed they would follow. Having won in the last two meetings between the sides, the French side went ahead within five minutes thanks to Yato. Strettle chipped possession over the top of Isa Nacewa, and Yato made his way onto the ball, with Morgan Parra adding two.
On his 50th Leinster appearance, things weren't going well for Nacewa and he found himself sin-binned soon after the try for a pull on Strettle that was spotted by Owens and the cameras. That produced a penalty that Parra slotted through to make it 10-0, and the lead increased in a dominant opening 20 minute spell that blew Leinster away.
Strettle was causing all sorts of problems and with Nacewa off the pitch, he eased to the second try. Beating Dan Leavy and Joey Carbery on the way in, the ex-England man steaming his way over. Parra missed the two but a 15 point gap was menacing to say the least.
But Leinster calmed the storm and slowly began to push themselves upfield, with Strettle on hand to stop a promising break from Carbery. Parra missed a chance to increase the lead as he skewed a penalty wide of the posts and just before half-time, Sexton got Leinster onto the board with the final action of the half.
The other side of half-time saw Sexton reduce the lead down to nine and after a lightning start, Clermont’s advantage was disappearing. Another three from Sexton was followed by a fourth, and Leinster had truly brought the tie right back to life as they turned the tide in their favour.
The visitors thought they'd turned it right around as Leavy went over but celebrations were short lived after the TMO spotted an infringement in the build up, and play was brought back to allow Parra to get the lead back to six from a penalty. And that seemed to spark something inside Clermont who started to get things back into their own favour as time began to wear on. Camille Lopez added a drop goal to restore the gap to nine.
But Leinster were back, and in some way. Ringrose did it all by himself, with pace, power and everything else that could be done to sidestep two and dummy another. Sexton converted and the gap was all the way down to two. But it started to run away from Sexton and co, with Lopez’s penalty putting it back to five. And another drop goal finished it off, with Sexton’s late penalty not enough.
Tries: Yato, Strettle
Pens: Parra 2, Lopez
Drop Goals: Lopez 2
Pens: Sexton 5
Yellow Card: Nacewa
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, 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 (c), 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 Seán 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: Jonathan Mason (Wales)