Leinster blow Toulouse away to book final date in Marseille

Four tries leads to a 23-point margin with Johnny Sexton named player of the match

Johnny Sexton was named player of the match after Leinster’s win. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Johnny Sexton was named player of the match after Leinster’s win. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Leinster 40 Toulouse 17

Leo Cullen noted on the eve of this momentous semi-final that Leinster always seemed to be chasing Toulouse. Well, by dethroning fellow European royalty, Leinster may be about to catch up with them.

They booked their place in a sixth final in Marseilles in two weeks’ time in fairly emphatic manner at a sun-drenched Aviva Stadium, thus moving them to within game of equalling Toulouse’s record haul of five Heineken Champions Cups.

They will play either Racing, who they beat in the final three years ago in Bilbao, or La Rochelle, who beat them in the semi-finals last season, although if the latter do reach the Stade Velodrome, they will be without the injured Will Skelton.

The latter has become something of an ogre for Leinster over the last three seasons when playing a sizeable part in their defeats by Saracens (twice) and La Rochelle. But faced by a mammoth Toulouse pack supplemented by a 6-2 split, what will have pleased Leinster as much as anything, their more explosive and younger pack contributed to the hosts actually having the better of the collisions.

The win wasn’t without its wobbles or concerns, not least the scrum issues after Tadhg Furlong’s early departure with what appeared to be a recurrence of his calf problems. The final scoreline may slatter them slightly, but only slightly, for in pretty much every other department Leinster were the superior as well as hungrier and fresher side.

Cutting edge

James Ryan, Jack Conan and Caelan Doris typified Leinster’s greater explosiveness in their carries, as did Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, who are utterly on top of their games. The cutting edge was provided by James Lowe, infectious and uncontainable, and at the death Hugo Keenan.

Leinster’s phased attack consistently manipulated and stretched a Toulouse side that looked weary, Johnny Sexton admitting afterwards that Munster may have softened them up a little.

Pulling the strings in tandem with the razor sharp Jamison Gibson-Park, the captain was in supreme form, and tellingly used his well weighted cross kicks more regularly in the second half. Indeed, Leinster’s kicking game was varied and with purpose, whereas Toulouse’s was often aimless.

Most of all, though, it was the speed of ruck ball and the interlinking between forwards - Ross Molony a frequent distributor - and backs which kept Toulouse guessing until the last split second when that the pass or tip-on was given.

As forecast, the Aviva Stadium was bathed in blue skies and blue flags. It didn’t seem like anything resembling 42,000 tickets had been sold beforehand, but it sure did when Sexton led Leinster out onto the pitch.

After his kick-off and James Lowe found space in behind, Leinster opted for a rock solid scrum off a free-kick. Good carries by Garry Ringrose and Jack Conan launched a high octane, multi-phase attack which earned an opening three-pointer by Sexton after Toulouse strayed offside.

Champions Cup: Leinster 40 Toulouse 17 (FT)

Nathan Johns guides you through all the action in this semi-final at the Aviva

Toulouse were a little off colour initially, and from the first of two knock-ons by Julian Marchand, Furlong’s long skip pass for Lowe on the left wing would have done any outhalf proud.

Toulouse scored the first try of the day through a breakaway Antoine Dupont effort. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Toulouse scored the first try of the day through a breakaway Antoine Dupont effort. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

But when Gibson-Park went for a grubber on the blindside Antoine Dupont blocked, gathered and had clear daylight from inside the Toulouse 22 all the way to the Leinster line. Ramos converted.

Next moment focussed, Leinster simply renewed their offensive. Furlong’s tip-on put Doris through a gap but he fired his pass at Keenan’s head. Sexton worked a variation on his wrap to hit Lowe on the edge before Ringrose made inroads and Meafou came through on Gibson-Park. Sexton made it a one-point game.

Furlong alertly dived on a loose ball before Matthis Lebel was offside and Sexton opted for the corner. Henshaw was launched off a strong maul and Furlong and van der Flier also carried before Gibson-Park went blind for Sexton to put Lowe over with a tip pass inside as Toulouse struggled to reload. To be fair, any team would have done so given the lightening quick ball.

But then Furlong hobbled off with an apparent return of his calf problems.

Soon though, a prolonged period of ball in play, accentuated by Ntamack’s kick down Keenan’s throat, could only suit Leinster. From Keenan’s counter, Ringrose again carried well before Leinster hit Lowe on the edge. Sexton’s show and go was completely bought by Rory Arnold - see you later - and he weighed up his options to hit van der Flier back on the inside, Lebel’s strong tackle only helping to propel the flanker toward the line for Leinster’s second try.

Josh van der Flier scored Leinster’s second try off the back of a Sexton dummy. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Josh van der Flier scored Leinster’s second try off the back of a Sexton dummy. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Michael Ala’alatoa was targeted at the next put-in as Leinster’s scrum was destroyed and Ramos kicked the penalty, but Toulouse’s discipline began to seriously waver.

Another nothing kick by Ntamack was returned with interest by Lowe before Francois Cros went blatantly off his feet and dissent by Rynhardt Elstadt made Sexton’s penalty easier.

Meafou then came through on Gibson-Park even more blatantly to earn a yellow card. With Toulouse depowered, Sexton twice went to the corner, but from the first Ramos prevented O’Brien from gathering Sexton’s cross-kick and Henshaw prematurely joined the maul to be pinged.

Leinster were roared off with a 23-10 lead, their only regret being that it wasn’t more.

Still they had another seven minutes to exploit the absence of Meafou.

Keenan brilliantly reclaimed a Sexton cross-kick after James Ryan’s line-out steal, but when Gibson-Park pulled the trigger with a long pass for Lowe, it was picked off by Ntamack. Ryan’s side entry ended another attack before Meafou returned, whereupon Leinster finally struck.

James Lowe notched a double for the hosts. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
James Lowe notched a double for the hosts. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Molony’s line-out steal was backed up by Gibson-Park chasing and charging down Ntamack’s kick. Leinster went wide to Lowe, then back infield through big carries by Ala’alatoa, Conan and Dan Sheehan, who made a big impact, before Sexton’s floated pass gave Lowe an untroubled second try which the skipper also converted.

However, a sequence of penalties gave Toulouse inroads, and a pack energised by six reinforcements engineered a line-out maul try. Selevasio Tolofua tip-toeing to within a fraction of the touchline for Ramos to convert from the touchline.

But from Lowe’s intercept and sharp kick on the turn, Leinster hemmed Toulouse into their own 22, forcing the error and turning the screw for Ross Byrne to make it a three-score game.

The huge crowd could properly enjoy the endgame and after Lowe reclaimed a Ringrose grubber, a still sprightly Keenan added the final flourish when skipping through weary defenders.

Scoring sequence: 5 mins Sexton pen 3-0; 7 mins Dupont try, Ramos con 3-7; 13 mins Sexton pen 6-7; 15 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 13-7; 20 mins van der Flier try, Sexton con 20-7; 24 mins Ramos pen 20-10; 33 mins Sexton pen 23-10; (half-time 23-10); 50 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 30-10; 66 mins Tolofua try, Ramos con 30-17; 74 mins Byrne pen 33-17; 79 mins Keenan try, Byrne con 40-17.

LEINSTER RUGBY: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; Ross Molony, James Ryan; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Michael Ala’alatoa for Furlong (17 mins), Dan Sheehan for Kelleher (47 mins), Ciaran Frawley for Henshaw (65 mins), Cian Healy for Porter, Luke McGrath for Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne for Sexton (all 68 mins), Rhys Ruddock for van der Flier (73 mins), Joe McCarthy for Ryan (76 mins).

STADE TOULOUSAIN: Thomas Ramos; Juan Cruz Mallía, Pierre Fouyssac, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand (capt), Dorian Aldegheri; Rory Arnold, Emmanuel Meafou; Rynhardt Elstadt, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka for Marchand, Rodrigue Neti for Baille, Selevasio Tolofua for Jelonch (all 52 mins), David Ainu’u for Aldegheri, Thibaud Flament for Arnold (both 57 mins), Joe Tekori for Meafou, Zack Holmes for Foussac (both 63 mins), Martin Page Relo for Ahki (66 mins), Baille for Neti (70 mins).

Yellow card: Meafou (37-47 mins).

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)

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