Saturday 24 February 2018

Two-try Toulouse blitz rips crown from Leinster hands

Toulouse 26
Leinster 16


There's no shame in losing to Toulouse in their own backyard, particularly when you manage to resurrect a game that seemed dead in the space of four minutes.

in Toulouse

Still, Leinster will be annoyed that they surrendered their Heineken Cup title without bringing their best game to the table. They were brave and honest -- typified by Shane Jennings who battled on through injury, without losing much of his effect.

They knew they would be under the cosh without Jonny Sexton on a day when the weather went from biblical rain to overcast but relatively clement by kick-off. The effect of the torrents however made for a greasy ball and a slippy surface and in those conditions a big punter at outhalf was a must.

Shaun Berne coped well with the placed ball, and cross-kicked well, and between himself and the excellent Rob Kearney they hit four from four. But, unable to get any length into his punting, Berne struggled for territory for his team. And they had a battle on their hands at the set-scrum.

Michael Cheika reacted quickly to Cian Healy's contest against Daan Human by springing CJ van der Linde after only half an hour, but no matter what the make up of the Leinster front row -- and it shuffled around for the rest of the day -- Toulouse had a penalty-winning machine here.

The problem for their fans was they didn't do an awful lot with it however. And there was a period in this game when that frustration grew and you could see Leinster's resolve being enough to get them out of another tight corner. But they needed a big favour from someone and perhaps they used up all their luck in getting to this point.

Instead they looked wrecked by the end. They had been given a hard time of it by the Toulouse forwards and the power that Guy Noves was able to call on from the bench was a factor as well. For an hour though the longest-serving coach in Europe was not a happy man. His team were playing solid rugby and David Skrela was keeping the scoreboard ticking over with penalty kicks won at either the breakdown or the scrum.

And his gainline defence was operating well too, never more effective than in stopping Cian Healy in his tracks when the prop took the ball up from five metres when Leinster were trailing 6-0 in the first half.

By the end of the half, despite Toulouse's dominance, it was a 9-6 scoreline thanks to Berne nailing two penalties, the second after Jennings had done great work sacking William Servat in midfield. All things considered, trailing by three points wasn't bad at all.

At the break Noves turned to Maxime Medard and inside a couple of minutes in the second half he nearly delivered, only to be beaten by the dead ball line when chasing his own kick ahead. It looked an inspired substitution but when the try-claim came back negative from the video ref it was another item to add to their list of frustrations. And when Kearney nailed a terrific kick from over 40 metres you could see it all going south for the French.

But when they rescued it they rescued it in style, which of course is the Toulouse way. Soon after they had messed up a try-scoring chance when Yannick Jauzion had passed forward to Medard, they hit Leinster with two tries in the space of four minutes and the game changed irrevocably.

First it was Jauzion, taking a pass from Byron Kelleher on the short side and slipping Leo Cullen's tackle to score. The approach work to get them to that point was the first sign that they were finding their range. Skrela nailed the conversion from the touchline, and a few minutes later, with Toulouse visibly charged by having made the breakthrough, they swept forward again.

This time it was Skrela doing all the damage. He stepped Gordon D'Arcy 20 metres out and ran into a vast gap. Touching down under the sticks it was hard to see how Leinster could get back into it. His conversion made it 23-9 with 20 minutes to play.

But Leinster did come back into it, and within just five minutes of Skrela's strike. Moreover it was as good as anything Toulouse managed. Realising the space he was in was about to close, Brian O'Driscoll made a perfect cross kick for D'Arcy to gather and take on. By the time the ball had been recycled it needed a top-class pass to find Jamie Heaslip out wide and Isa Nacewa delivered just that. A tremendous try.

That shook the crowd, or at least the bulk of the 34,951. It stirred the home team however and, aided by the quality they had coming off the bench, they looked to have more in the tank. Straight away they put the champions under pressure and on 70 minutes their power had delivered another opportunity for Skrela. If he slotted it then Toulouse would have a cushion to take them to the final whistle.

He did, and they didn't need it. They were comfortable by the finish, but looked mightily relieved afterwards as they lapped the field and thanked their fans, as vocal a bunch as you'll find. Another final then for Les Toulousains. How they would like it to be Munster in Paris. Leinster would have been happy just to be there.

Sunday Independent

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