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Heineken Cup: Clermont edge kicking battle with Leinster
Clermont Auvergne pulled clear at the top of Heineken Cup Pool 5 with a 15-12 victory over defending champions Leinster at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Morgan Parra kicked four penalties and his half-back partner Brock James added a drop goal as the French side scored all their points in the first half.
Leinster stand-off Jonathan Sexton kept his side in touch with four penalties, three before half-time and the last in the 53rd minute to reduce the deficit to three points.
But the Irish province, who beat the same opponents in the semi-final of last season's competition, could not find a way through during a hard-fought finale.
The result extends Clermont's unbeaten home record to 51 matches - dating back to November 2009 - and puts them on 14 points in Pool 5 after three straight wins.
Leinster, for whom defeat brought an end to a 17-match unbeaten streak in the Heineken Cup, picked up a losing bonus point for their efforts and remain in second place in the pool with nine points ahead of the return fixture in Dublin next Saturday.
Clermont drew first blood, Parra popping over a penalty from in front of the posts but Leinster carried more of an early threat with ball in hand.
Jamie Heaslip's inside pass put Ian Madigan through a midfield hole and Sexton stepped up to convert the subsequent penalty.
An obstruction from a lineout went unpunished as Sexton missed a tricky penalty, with play swinging back and forth at a hectic pace.
A strong burst from Napolioni Nalaga led to Parra kicking Clermont back in front by the end of a defence-dominated first quarter.
The home side cranked it up as Sitiveni Sivivatu drew in two defenders, releasing Aurelien Rougerie and Lee Byrne for a right-wing surge that almost led to a try.
A third successful penalty from Parra stretched the margin to 9-3, but Leinster were quick to respond through a bout of sturdy carries from Fergus McFadden, Cian Healy and Kevin McLaughlin.
Sexton was back on target with a penalty from the 22 and as the Leinster pack exerted more control, they continued to make good ground.
Madigan burst into the 22 and with Clermont penalised for not rolling away, Sexton brought the title holders level.
However, Clermont hit back through another penalty from Parra and James' late drop goal put six points between the sides at the break.
Sexton and Madigan probed with clever kicks on the resumption, while Isa Nacewa and McFadden both went close to collecting cross-field kicks from the Leinster number 10.
After two confidence-boosting scrums, with Mike Ross shunting Vincent Debaty backwards, Sexton slotted his fourth successful penalty with 53 minutes on the clock.
Clermont looked to be tiring but Byrne did well again to sweep the ball into touch with Nacewa bearing down on him as he chased Gordon D'Arcy's kick.
Although the French outfit responded with two side-stepping runs from the dangerous Wesley Fofana, Leinster defended stoutly but a couple of loose lineouts - with replacement hooker Richard Strauss on the pitch - robbed them of promising attacking positions as time ran down.
|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Sunday 25th January|
|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Munster 65 - 10 Sale Sharks|
|Clermont Auvergne 18 - 6 Saracens|
|Bath 20 - 15 Glasgow|
|Montpellier 27 - 26 Toulouse|
|Saturday 24th January|
|Scarlets 3 - 26 Toulon|
|Ulster 26 - 7 Leicester|
|Northampton 8 - 32 Racing Metro 92|
|Benetton Treviso 23 - 20 Ospreys|
|Castres 19 - 47 Harlequins|
|Wasps 20 - 20 Leinster|
|Sunday 18th January|
|Ospreys 9 - 20 Northampton|
|Racing Metro 92 53 - 7 Benetton Treviso|
|Toulouse 18 - 35 Bath|
|Glasgow 21 - 10 Montpellier|
|Saturday 17th January|
|Harlequins 3 - 23 Wasps|
|Sale Sharks 13 - 22 Clermont Auvergne|
|Leinster 50 - 8 Castres|
|Toulon 60 - 22 Ulster|
|Saracens 33 - 10 Munster|
|Friday 16th January|
|Leicester 40 - 23 Scarlets|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com