Powerful Leinster blow Toulouse away to set up mouthwatering Champions Cup final with Saracens
Leinster 30 Toulouse 12
If you were scripting the Champions Cup this season then the last scene would involve Leinster, the defending champions, against Saracens, back-to-back winners in 2016 and 2017.
In short, the two best sides in Europe. The technicality in sorting this set-piece was to get rid of Toulouse at the Aviva. Job done.
Having picked a pack of heavyweights to do a job, Toulouse did as expected, and tried to monster Leinster. They came up well short. No part of their plan featured going through 80 minutes without scoring a try, but that's what happened. They were a distant second to a side who have seen all this before, but now have an injury concern over Sean Cronin on what is a busy run-in.
The quality of Leinster’s opening quarter was first class. Having fallen behind to a Thomas Ramos penalty against James Ryan for not rolling away, the home side embraced the challenge put up to them. The key was their combination of pace and physicality.
Pretty much everything was done at speed, and despite conceding height and weight at scrum and lineout, their set-piece dominated in the first half. It all contributed to a lead of 17-6 at that point. It would have been more had Jack Conan not been done for obstruction in the build-up to what would have been a second try for James Lowe.
There had been no problem with Lowe’s first effort though. It was a hugely powerful finish to a 10-phase sequence from Leinster that had a bit of everything. Johnny Sexton had levelled the game 3-3 when Ramos put the restart dead and Leinster went into overdrive.
From the scrum they battered the French left and right, making enough space for Lowe to score down the five metre channel. Sexton nailed the conversion for a 10-3 lead, and on 24 minutes it got better again.
Robbie Henshaw put the ball in behind where there was heaps of space and then he got up to block Ramos’s clearance. Toulouse were already struggling, whereupon Richie Gray conceded a penalty – and a card – for knocking the ball from Luke McGrath’s hand while the second row was on the floor. Leinster put it to touch and the scrumhalf was on the end of the maul that drove over, with Sexton converting.
Had Lowe’s try stood then the game could have been done and dusted at that point, but instead Toulouse came out for the second half knowing that an early score would put them back in it. And against a side who had lost Sean Cronin with a calf injury. Sure enough, Ramos did just that with a penalty that just about cleared the crossbar for 17-9.
A try would have been more useful, for that’s what Leinster were after every time they got in sight of the Toulouse posts. So when Sexton nudged a lovely kick deep into the red 22 the away side must have feared the worst. Leinster stayed there for what seemed an age until Scott Fardy – just back from the blood bin – got over out wide after Sexton had taken full advantage of a penalty that was coming their way.
The extras left Toulouse adrift at 24-9, at which point – with the help of reinforcements off the bench – the French started to keep the ball long enough to put Leinster under pressure. What they needed most of all was a try, and looked to have nailed it when Maxime Medard collected his own chip and got over. Sadly for him, he had Garry Ringrose for company and the try was knocked back on review.
Another Sexton penalty soon after the hour put the gap to 15 points – it was his last act before being replaced by Ross Byrne – and despite having a fair amount of territory and possession Toulouse couldn’t close that gap. Instead it widened, with Byrne tapping over for another three points after Lowe was denied on the line.
Leinster: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (yc 31-41), J Lowe; J Sexton (R Byrne 66), L McGrath (H O’Sullivan 79) C Healy (E Byrne 61), S Cronin (J Tracey 34), T Furlong (M Bent 66), D Toner, J Ryan (M Deegan 79), S Fardy, J Conan (C Coris 79), S O’Brien
Toulouse: T Ramos (M Medard 55); Y Huget, S Guitoune, P Ahki, C Kolbe; A Dupont, S Bezy (R Ntamack 54); C Castets (C Baille 51), P Mauvaka (G Marchand 63), C Faumuina (M van Dyk 51), R Arnold, R Gray (yc 25-35), R Elstadt, J Kaino, J Tekori (S Tolofua 51)
Referee: W Barnes (England)