Two greats of European rugby met head at the RDS in Dublin this afternoon in a race for five Heineken Champions Cup titles and qualification from Pool 1 of this year’s competition.
The previous meeting between Leinster and Toulouse back in October proved to be a titanic battle, one that the saw the French side come out on top against the European champions by a single point, 28-27.
Captain Rhys Ruddock set the tone for Leinster with a strong line break after two minutes, but Toulouse showed their intent immediately coming back at Leinster led by Antoine Dupont until a typical Josh Van Der Flier turnover showed just how much of a ding-dong battle this was going to be after only three minutes.
Sean Cronin showed his raw speed of the back of the lineout smashing into Thomas Ramos and winning a penalty that brought the crowd to its feet as Leinster looked to gain some early momentum.
Leinster piled on the pressure drawing a penalty from Toulouse and giving Ross Byrne an easy opportunity to get the first points on the board after 8 minutes.
Following a frantic back and forth, Toulouse got the opportunity to level the scoring in front of the posts following a fantastic scrum by the French side forced a collapse and the penalty which Ramos duly converted.
A scintillating sidestep by Jordan Larmour on Ramos gained Leinster some inroad as the home side looked to stamp their authority on the game. Toulouse defended unbelievably, however, holding the home side out for 38 phases before captain, Julien Marchand forced the turnover, a huge moment which saw Leinster exert a lot of energy and come away with nothing.
The first half continued in similar fashion as both sides engaged in a war of attrition. Dupont and Cheslin Kolbe were a constant threat for Toulouse whilst Leinster on three occasions looked like they were going to score the games first try, only for Toulouse to hold them at bay each time.
As the minutes edged down towards half-time Leinster finally forced their way over the line through Jack Conan following some impressive work from Adam Byrne and Garry Ringrose.
Rose Byrne converted to send Leinster into a 10-3 lead before a quick break across the field from Kolbe gave Toulouse the chance to add three points to the board before the game’s half.
Despite being a low scoring affair, the first 40 minutes was a game filled with test match class and intensity.
Half-time score – Leinster 10 Toulouse 6
Leinster started the second half brightest, Sean Cronin continued to impress barging through the Toulouse line, before a moment of absolute magic brought the crowd to its feet after 50 minutes.
The home side battled through the phases as they edged into Toulouse territory before Rose Byrne sent a crossfield kick towards the touchline.
Dave Kearney showed his best Louth GAA skills to rise high, claim the ball and touch it down over the line to put some daylight between the two with a half hour remaining.
Dave Kearney extends Leinster's lead against Toulouse with this superb try.
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) January 12, 2019
Leo Cullen’s men gained complete control following Kearney’s score. The man himself forced a knock on from Maxime Médard immediately following his score, before Tadgh Furlong forced a Leinster a scrum underneath the posts. It looked as though Toulouse’s defensive efforts in the first half were beginning to tell, as Leinster seemed to be only getting stronger.
Following yet another penalty, Leinster shunned the opportunity to kick three points, instead kicking into the corner, showing their intent to kill the game as a contest.
A third try looked on its way, and that proved to be the case as Sean Cronin went over for yet another try this season.
Despite Leinster’s dominance, Toulouse were never going to go away. Kolbe continued to threaten Leinster, whilst Richie Arnold drove his side on, desperately trying to get them back into the game as the final 10 minutes approached.
However, the French side failed to turn dominance into points as Leinster turned over the ball to give them some much-needed respite as the game edged to a close.
Leinster went in search of a fourth try that would give them the maximum five points and their efforts were rewarded. Jamison Gibson-Park showed great vision taking a quick penalty before sending a long skip pass to Adam Byrne who was left with nothing but open space in front of him to secure the bonus point win.
Substitute Noel Reid kicked the conversion to put Leinster into a commanding 23 point lead.
Toulouse got a consolation score on 80 minutes through Kolbe but it was too little too late.
Leinster sit proudly atop Pool 1 and look nailed on for a home quarter-final provided they can get a win against a struggling Wasps next week.
Full-time score – Leinster 29 Toulouse 13