Defending champions Leinster reached the European Cup semi-finals on Friday with a 29-28 epic win over Clermont as the French side’s Australian fly-half Brock James suffered a kicking horror-show.
Leinster will face either Toulouse or Stade Francais for a place in the final, as Clermont, for whom winger Julien Malzieu scored a hat-trick of tries, were defeated in the last eight for a third time.
Shell-shocked James cut a heart-broken figure after fluffing two late drop-goal attempts, including the last kick of the game.
In all, he missed five out of nine kicks, while Irish counterpart Jonathan Sexton succeeded with seven from eight.
“Brock James had a difficult night,” Clermont coach Vern Cotter said. “It’s hard to know what he’s going through.”
Clermont dominated the early exchanges and James overcame the disappointment of missing a seventh-minute penalty to set-up his side’s opening try five minutes later.
His deft chip ahead found center Gonzalo Canale, who quickly fed Aurelien Rougerie. He in turn slipped the ball to Malzieu, who scored in the corner.
James was successful with the conversion before he added a penalty in the 17th minute to stretch the score to 10-0.
But Leinster, playing in their seventh European Cup quarter-final in nine years, were quickly on the board with a penalty from Jonathan Sexton before Ireland star center Brian O’Driscoll engineered his side’s first try.
O’Driscoll fought off one tackle, then smartly drew Rougerie out of his covering position before feeding supporting No. 8 Jamie Heaslip, who burst through to score.
Sexton landed the conversion, via the upright, to bring the scores level at 10-10.
James’ accuracy again deserted him when he missed two more penalties.
The champions snatched the lead when Heaslip scored his second try on 33 minutes, barreling over from scrum-half Eoin Reddan’s pass to score under the posts.
Sexton, with a straightforward conversion, made it 17-10 and added a long-range penalty for 20-10.
On the stroke of half-time, James was relieved of his kicking duties, but French international scrum-half Morgan Parra failed with a long-distance penalty.
The French side cut the deficit three minutes into the second half when Marius Joubert found Malzieu with a long, swift pass and the winger touched down for his second try.
Again James missed with a difficult conversion, tight to the line, but the Australian coolly landed a 40m penalty as Clermont moved to within two points at 20-18.
Sexton popped over his fifth successful kick with a 54th-minute penalty to give the home side breathing space at 23-18.
James missed another penalty but quickly made amends on the hour mark as Clermont moved back to within two points.
Leinster winger Shane Horgan then handed Clermont the lead with a double howler.
First, his lazy attempt to trap the ball failed, forcing him to scramble back. Then, under pressure, Horgan’s clearing kick was charged down by Joubert before Malzieu sprinted away to register his hat-trick.
James converted for a 28-23 lead, but Sexton replied to cut Clermont’s advantage to 28-26.
Full-back Anthony Floch was then sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, but Sexton missed the penalty, his first failure in seven kicks.
The fly-half was back on target as Leinster regained the lead at 29-28 with seven minutes left before James’s two attempted drop-goals sailed wide.
Yesterday’s quarter-finals saw Biarritz facing Ospreys while Munster welcomed Northampton. Former champions Toulouse clash with Stade Francais today.
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