Two-time defending champions Leinster were left teetering on the edge of going out in the pool stage of this season’s European Cup after being outplayed in a 28-21 defeat at home to French side Clermont on Saturday.
Clermont’s victory — built around 23 points from France star Morgan Parra’s boot — saw them move onto 18 points, with Leinster on 10 points after grabbing a defensive bonus point right at the death when Fergus McFadden touched down.
It gave the record crowd for a pool match — slightly more than 48,000 — some consolation.
“We are very happy as every other time we have come here we have lost,” Parra said.
“Our defense was the difference, which meant we got to control the ball,” he added.
His captain Aurelien Rougerie paid a handsome tribute to the France scrumhalf.
“He was everything to do with this victory. It is down to him,” Rougerie said.
Exeter are a point behind Leinster with two games remaining, as they secured a second successive win over Welsh side Scarlets with a 30-20 win at home.
Clermont led 9-6 approaching the break when they landed a huge psychological blow as they scored a superb try.
Wesley Fofana burst over the line after Napolioni Nalaga had been brought down just short — Parra landed the conversion to give them a 16-6 lead at halftime.
Parra and Jonathan Sexton each converted a penalty early in the second half.
The hosts’ chances of getting back into the match got slimmer in the 50th minute when flanker Sean O’Brien was sin-binned for a dangerous challenge on Sitiveni Sivivatu and Parra landed the resulting penalty for 22-9.
Parra added another in a peerless display of kicking, but the Irish side, at last showing some fire, saw Shane Jennings go over — for only their second try in this season’s tournament — and Sexton added the conversion for 25-16.
However, Parra added another three points to leave the hosts just 10 minutes to recoup something from the match, which they did when Sexton burst from the halfway line and fed McFadden, who secured what turned out to be a crucial bonus point.
Earlier on Saturday, the Ospreys restored some pride to Welsh club rugby with an impressive 17-6 victory over four-time European Cup winners Toulouse in their Pool 2 match.
The Ospreys, whose two wins in this season’s competition are the only ones from the 11 games Welsh sides have played in, scored the one try of the game through man of the match Eli Walker against a Toulouse side that underperformed spectacularly.
Leicester went top of the pool after they eked out a come-from-behind 14-13 win over Treviso in Italy.
The English side, who travel to the Ospreys in the next round of matches next month, lead Toulouse by a point with two games remaining, while the Ospreys are five points adrift of the pool leaders.
Leicester are to host Toulouse in what should be a thrilling final pool game.