Leinster have effectively bowed out of this year’s Champions Cup after going down 24-9 to a less than convincing Toulon side at the Stade Mayol.
Needing a win to stand any realistic chance of progressing from a loaded Pool 5, Leinster beat themselves before Toulon had any opportunity to, as too often did Leo Cullen’s side fail to execute when it mattered most. Leinster were ill-disciplined, careless with possession and failed to make the most of their limited opportunities, as what was at one stage a very winnable game became an increasingly foregone conclusion for the visitors.
Two tries from dynamo openside flanker Steffon Armitage helped guide Toulon to their first win of the campaign but the three-time champions were far from their best and were particularly poor at the set-piece, with an unstable line-out and scrum.
Unfortunately for Leinster, their set-piece was arguably worse as the Blues turned the ball over time and time again and gave away penalties from their set-piece at critical points during the game. A botched lineout in Toulon territory and a scrum penalty just outside the 22 with 14 minutes to play proved to be costly for the visitors as Eric Escande booted the hosts clear. On a night where Leinster needed to win, they yet again fell dismally short.
Apart from the wayward scrum and line-out, Leinster’s ill-discipline turned an uphill task into a mountainous climb. Cian Healy, Devin Toner and Tom Denton all spent time in the bin with Healy’s dismissal particularly concerning given its uneccessary nature. The Blackrock product received a yellow card from referee Nigel Owens after appearing to intentionally knee a downed opponent in a ruck, with the loosehead’s dismissal the beginning of a series of penalties and yellow cards against the visitors.
Despite Toulon’s noticeable size advantage, Leinster did look strong in the carry with Rhys Ruddock and Mike Ross making a number of strong runs throughout the game. The Blues did make some metres through the middle and around the fringes but desperately lacked penetration out wide and often referred to pinning the ball in the corner after failing to break a stringent Toulon defensive line.
Johnny Sexton missed a key opportunity to put Leinster ahead early in the second half as he shanked his kick from distance, ensuring Leinster would trail for the remainder of the game. The fly-half endured a rough return to France as he struggled to impose himself on a game that always seemed to elude him.
The loss effectively knocks Leinster out of the competition, as although they mathematically still have a chance to qualify, Leo Cullen will need a minor miracle to advance at this stage.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena