Leinster overthrow Toulouse to book Champions Cup final berth
All roads lead to Marseille, as Leinster emphatically dethroned the defending champions to advance to their first European final in three years.
oulose simply couldn’t live with the pace and intensity of Leinster, as Johnny Sexton once again rolled back the years to deliver a masterful performance.
The outside half was at the heart of everything good about Leinster’s scintillating attack, but the platform was established by a dominant display from the pack, which provided a quick ruck ball in front of 42,076 supporters at an Aviva stadium sunny.
Leinster await the winners of today’s all-French encounter between Racing 92 and La Rochelle, as they eagerly await a trip to the Stade Velodrome in a fortnight.
There were concerns over Tadhg Furlong being sent off with what appeared to be another calf problem, but Leo Cullen was later optimistic about his chances of being fit for the final. Rónan Kelleher suffered a head injury and will follow return-to-play protocols.
Aware that Toulouse played a grueling 100 minutes here last weekend, Leinster did everything at high speed to try and sap the energy of their opponents. The game plan worked wonderfully.
While the attack thrived with Sexton pulling the strings, defensively Leinster were also outstanding as they came out of the line to stop Toulouse’s dangerous men.
For the second week in a row, Robbie Henshaw set the tone with a fierce display. His central partner Garry Ringrose was also immense. At the forefront, James Ryan and Ross Molony delivered strong performances in the engine room.
Leinster scored four tries, two from James Lowe and one from Josh van der Flier and Hugo Keenan, against Toulouse’s two as the five-time winners were ruthlessly discarded.
The hosts started playing at a high pace from the start and it was no surprise that they identified the Toulouse midfield as an area of weakness. Henshaw and Ringrose both made early breakthroughs and when Toulouse were flagged offside it allowed Sexton to kick Leinster in front.
Toulouse struggled to get out of their own half, only for maestro Antoine Dupont to block Jamison Gibson-Park’s grubber and run almost the full length of the field to score against the run of play. put Toulouse ahead 7-3 after seven minutes, but it was a lead they would soon relinquish.
A second penalty from Sexton reduced the deficit and the talismanic skipper then became a provider. Furlong had done well to earn a loose ball on the deck, and after Henshaw and Van der Flier made heavy carry the game was worked wide for Sexton, whose delightful inside pass put Lowe over the top . Sexton added the extras to put Leinster 13-7 ahead.
After Furlong’s unfortunate departure, Leinster struck again. Molony played a few incisive passes on the win line, the second of which freed Sexton. The other half bided their time and sent a perfect pass to Van der Flier. The back row still had work to do, as he powered through contact and down the line. Converted sexton.
With Furlong no longer in the equation, Toulouse went after Leinster’s scrum and it paid off, as Ramos kicked in a penalty which stemmed from a huge push from his squad.
Sexton quickly canceled with another penalty, and as Toulouse tried desperately to slow Leinster’s lightning-fast ruck ball, Emmanuel Meafou saw yellow for cynically eliminating Gibson-Park.
This time Sexton went around the corner, and as we came back for another penalty Leinster’s maul was about to set up, only for Henshaw to arrive on the scene too soon, costing his team a cheap penalty.
You felt a try would have killed Toulouse, but still, a 23-10 half-time lead was nothing to sneeze at.
Playing with a men’s advantage after the restart, Leinster increased the intensity again. Ryan and Molony both netted crucial lineout steals, the latter allowing Leinster to launch another attack and when Gibson-Park blocked Ntamack, the home side smelled blood.
Doris made a big carry and with ruck ball speed off the charts again, Leinster remained patient until Sexton threw another cracking pass for Lowe to score his second try of the game to take their tournament tally to 10. Sexton converted for 30-10.
Toulouse turned to their bench for reinforcements and one of them, Selevasio Tolofua, came with the goods, as he tiptoed along the touchline next to a maul for a try which Ramos converted to give the visitors a silver lining with 14 minutes left on the clock.
But Cullen’s men had the nerve to claim victory.
Ross Byrne added a late insurance penalty before Keenan put the icing on the cake with a fourth try, converted by Byrne, as Leinster remain on track to add that elusive fifth star to their jersey.
Scorers – Leinster: Lowe 2 tries, Van der Flier, Keenan each try, Sexton 3 pens, 3 blocks, Byrne pen, blocks. Toulouse: Dupont, Tolofua try, Ramos 1 pen, 2 against.
Leinster: H Keenan; J O’Brien, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (C Frawley 64), J Lowe; J Sexton (captain) (R Byrne 68), J Gibson-Park (L McGrath 68); A Porter (C Healy 68), R Kelleher (D Sheehan 46), T Furlong (M Ala’alatoa 17); R Molony, J Ryan (J McCarthy 76); C Doris, J van der Flier (R Ruddock 72), J Conan.
Toulouse: T. Ramos; J Cruz Mallia, P Fouyssac (Z Holmes 62), P Ahki (M Page Relo 66), M Lebel; R Ntamack, A Dupont; C Baille (R Neti 52-69), J Marchand (capt) (P Mauvaka 52), D Aldegheri (D Ainu’u, 56); Arnold R (T Flament, 56), E Meafou (J Tekori, 62); R Elstadt, F Cros, A Jelonch (S Tolofua 52).
Arbitrator: K Dickson (England).