Leinster – 30
Toulouse – 12
Michael Corry reporting live from the Aviva Stadium.
Leinster proved too strong for Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon to set-up a mouthwatering clash with Saracens in next month’s Champions Cup final.
Toulouse started the brighter of the two sides with Rynhardt Elstadt involved in a huge collision with James Lowe early on. Cheslin Kolbe threatened a try but was stopped just beyond the gain line.
The French side’s early pressure was rewarded on five minutes when Thomas Ramos kicked a penalty to give them the game’s first points.
Leinster eased their way into the game forcing the game’s first scrum before a penalty left Sexton with the chance to level matters.
From the resulting kickoff, Toulouse missed their target giving Leinster a scrum on the half-way line and from here they took control of the game passing the ball through the hands before some brilliant work from Sean Cronin and Sean O’Brien sent James Lowe over in the corner for the game’s first try.
Sexton nailed a difficult conversion from the touchline to give Leinster a 10-3 lead after 15 minutes. From here Leinster had grabbed a foothold of the game as they went at their aggressive opponents. Sexton attempted to kick for the corner but was unsuccessful and when the ball was returned back into his path he went for an audacious drop-goal but fell agonisingly short.
A crazy passage of play then ensued on the 23rd minute when James Lowe took a surprisingly quick tap and go before being shut down immediately. With Leinster pegged back into their own 22 they looked in trouble until Robbie Henshaw smartly cleared his lines.
The ball bounced into touch before Yoann Huget took the lineout quickly passing to Ramos whose return kick was then blocked by the onrushing Henshaw. A scramble then occurred with referee Wayne Barnes eventually calling for a Leinster scrum deep inside the Toulouse 22.
Former Scotland international, Richie Gray was then sent to the bin for ten minutes for deliberately putting his hands on the ball as Luke McGrath attempted to pick from the back of the ruck. With the resulting penalty, Sexton kicked to the corner before Leinster’s world-class maul sent Luke McGrath over for their second try.
Again, Sexton nailed the conversion to put Leinster 14-points in front (17-3) as the half-hour mark approached.
Another Ramos penalty brought Toulouse back to within 11 as the final ten minutes of the half ticked down as Sean Cronin was unfortunately forced to leave the action with what looked like a dead leg.
As the clock entered the red zone, Sexton kicked a beautiful penalty into the corner, giving Leinster one more chance to extend their lead before half-time and looked as though they had when James Lowe ran in for his second try, however, the score was ruled out upon review due to an off the ball clash involving Jack Conan and Pita Ahki.
Half-time score: Leinster 17 Toulouse 6
Just as they had in the first, Toulouse started the second half brighter than their Irish counterparts and Kolbe looked to have broken the line before being held. Wayne Barnes then pulled the play back for an earlier infringement by Garry Ringrose on Antoine Dupont leaving Ramos with the opportunity to kick his third of the day which he duly obliged.
Toulouse’s early pressure counted for nothing though as Leinster resumed control of the match. A smart kick to the corner from Sexton left Kolbe with no option but to run the ball out of play. Leinster failed to make their maul work on this occasion but following another Toulouse penalty, they attempted to go for it again. After several phases that included an extremely audacious pass from Sexton to Jordan Larmour, it was Scott Fardy who eventually crashed over for Leinster’s third try.
Sexton once again sent the conversion between the posts to put Leinster into a commanding 24-9 lead with 25 minutes to go.
Toulouse entered into a purple patch with twenty minutes to go and looked to have scored following a beautiful dink kick and chase by Maxime Médard but upon review, Ringrose was deemed to have grounded the ball first. Toulouse were left with a penalty, however, which Pita Ahki converted.
As was the case for most of the game, once Toulouse looked to be gaining a bit of momentum, Leinster turned the screw once more. They took the ball straight back down the French side’s throat forcing a penalty in front of the posts giving Sexton the chance to convert a kick with his final piece of the action as the World Player of the Year made way for Ross Byrne.
It was a brilliant return to form for Sexton who hadn’t played for Leinster since December 29th with his last game coming in Ireland’s disappointing defeat to Wales in the final round of the Six Nations.
Leinster could have taken the easy option and kicked a penalty between the posts with five minutes left to play, but Ross Byrne set it into the corner and it almost proved to be the correct decision as James Lowe knocked on the ball inches short of grounding it. The advantage, however, left Byrne with the chance to convert a penalty and bring Leinster’s total to 30 points.
It’s onto Newcastle now for Leo Cullen’s men who face a tough Saracens side in this year’s Heineken Champions Cup final.
Full-time score: Leinster 30 Toulouse 12
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (captain), Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Scott Fardy, Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Michael Bent, Caelan Doris, Max Deegan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ross Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin.
Toulouse: Thomas Ramos, Yoann Huget, Sofiane Guitoune, Pita Ahki, Cheslin Kolbe, Antoine Dupont, Sébastien Bézy, Clément Castets, Peato Mauvaka, Charlie Faumuina, Richie Arnold, Richie Gray, Rynhardt Elstadt, Joe Tekori, Jerome Kaino (captain)
Replacements: Guillaume Marchand, Cyril Baille, Maks Van Dyk, Selevasio Tolofua, Piula Faasalele, Francois Cros, Romain Ntamack, Maxime Médard.
Referee: Wayne Barnes [England].