Toulouse 21 Bordeaux-Begles 9
Toulouse will contest their first European Champions Cup final for 11 years after Antoine Dupont finally put an end to the valiant challenge of Bordeaux-Begles.
The four-times winners struggled to fully impose themselves on depleted opponents but eight minutes from time Dupont was on hand — as he so often is — to finish off Toulouse’s second try and book their place at Twickenham on May 22.
It was not a semi-final for the ages, certainly neither side were helped by the weather, but plenty of credit must go to Bordeaux and in particular their ubiquitous captain, Matthieu Jalibert.
Their build-up was disrupted due to a Covid-19 outbreak that left them without eight players and having not played a match since their quarter-final three weeks ago.
That day Jalibert scored all their points, and he did so again this time, but while Toulouse showed their attacking talents only in glimpses, ultimately they had a gear beyond Bordeaux’s reach.
Toulouse are now into their seventh final having fallen in the last four in the two previous seasons and they will face either La Rochelle or Leinster, who square off today.
La Rochelle are formidable on their own turf but should Leinster triumph it would mean the two sides with four titles to their name going head to head for a fifth.
One of Toulouse’s two final defeats came at Twickenham — against Wasps in 2004 — but regardless of who they face they will fancy their chances, particularly if the rain stays away.
“All the people at the club talk about the history of the competition and Toulouse winning the four stars. We need to focus on what we need to do and make history again,” said their South Africa international Cheslin Kolbe.
“We’re quite a young team and hopefully when we get going we can pull through.”
Despite their disrupted preparations Bordeaux were first on the scoreboard with a Jalibert penalty after Thierry Paiva — starting in place of the usual captain, Jefferson Poirot — made his presence felt at the breakdown.
Three minutes later Toulouse struck with the opening try, a gem of a score finished by the left-winger, Matthis Lebel, for whom France honours cannot be far away.
It came from a direct carry up the middle from Jerome Kaino before the ball was worked from Romain Ntamack to Maxime Medard, who flicked it on to Zack Holmes. Hole had Lebel on his outside and from there only one outcome was likely.
It was a delightful try but the ease with which it was finished left you wondering if Bordeaux were staring down the barrel of a long afternoon.
It did not pan out that way, however, and while Jalibert missed his second kick at goal he was on target with his third.
Cameron Woki’s yellow card hampered the visitors further but Bordeaux still managed to stay in the contest.
They lost the lead a minute before the interval through an Ntamack penalty but scrambled to deny Dupont a try on the stroke of half-time and continued to frustrate Toulouse the restart.
Ntamack extended Toulouse’s lead to five points and after a litany of handling errors he struck another to give the home side breathing space.
Toulouse rode their luck — a shoulder to the head of Romain Buros by their captain Julien Marchand was missed by the officials — but just as you sensed the dam could break, back came Jalibert with another penalty before Dupont finally broke Bordeaux’s resistance.