Match report: Leinster 41 Toulouse 22
Match report: Leinster 41 Toulouse 22
April 29, 2023 / Des Berry
The all-court excellence of Leinster overwhelmed Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final at Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The outcome hinged on a period of pulsating attacking rugby which produced three tries in ten first-half minutes that turned a one-point deficit into a 20-point lead by the 27th minute.
The perceived wisdom suggested Leinster had to do what they did in the semi-final at the same venue last year, start at 100 miles an hour and lift the tempo from there.
Toulouse brought a beastly pack of forwards to dominate the gain line and ask Antoine Dupont to take it from there.
The French came hard and straight right from the get-go, Josh van der Flier shaking the ball free from Richie Arnold.
The instinct was just to go, the ball slipped right for Charlie Ngatai to use speed and deception to counter and kick long for Jordan Larmour to chase down Juan Cruz Mallia.
Security of field position was all they needed to force the penalty for Ross Byrne to strike a penalty.
Toulouse were quickly onto the frontfoot, Pita Ahki getting outside Hugo Keenan for a split-second and Tomas Ramos launching a tremendous 50-22.
Jack Willis’s power into contact was impressive and the ball was moved left for Ahki to slice between defenders, Ramos converting from the left in the 10th minute.
A high tackle by Peato Mauvaka on Garry Ringrose offered up the chance for Byrne to strike from 35 metres for 7-6 in the 13th minute.
A mesmerising back movement straight from a Leinster lineout set Jimmy O’Brien and Larmour free down the right, Thibauld Flament knocking the ball forward.
The speed of ball movement caused Ramos to be binned for a deliberate knock-on, prompting Leinster to go for broke.
Dan Sheehan was calm on the ball from a lineout, the maul establishing momentum and Andrew Porter linking with Jack Conan for a superb try, converted by Byrne for 13-7 in the 19th minute.
Another Toulouse indiscretion at the ruck opened the door for Leinster to come again with real dynamism.
Jamison Gibson-Park used the short side to put Conan up the tramline, faking the pass to van der Flier for his second try, converted by Byrne for 20-7 in the 23rd minute.
Nimble work on the floor by Ngatai enabled Leinster to advance their position, their continuity almost creating a third try for the twisting O’Brien, who just lost control of the ball in the act of grounding it.
It was a temporary reprieve. Leinster stood firm at a maul. Toulouse lost control of the ball and Sheehan snatched it out of thin air to avoid Dupont and Ramos on his way to a third, converted by Byrne for 27-7 in the 27th minute.
The five-time winners threatened a response on the heels of Dupont’s playmaking and Ahki’s burst before van der Flier forced a spill and Porter drove a scrum penalty out of Dorian Aldegheri.
When Emmanuel Meafou grabbed a turnover penalty, it led to an irresistible attack in which Dupont was the architect behind Meafou’s drive for the line, Ramos adding the extras in the 35th minute.
Byrne and O’Brien launched kicks to take Leinster out of trouble and Ngatai landed a superb 50-22 to apply pressure that was solved by Mauvaka’s poach at the end of a tumultuous half.
Toulouse wasted no time in hunting points, driving the ball ferociously to secure a 5-metre lineout, Ngatai smashing the ball free from Mauvaka for a scrum.
The same frantic pace was the order of the half, Keenan blasting out a long ball that handed Leinster fine field position.
The number of kicks was rising as the rain began to pour down in a tactical demonstration of speed chess.
Previously on top, the Leinster scrum gave up a penalty to Ramos for 27-17 in the 56th minute.
This was quickly followed by a Ramos 50-22 only for the officials to spot illegal use of the head by Rodrigue Neti on van der Flier which ended in a yellow card.
The impact was immediate. Byrne sent the penalty inside the 22. James Ryan plucked a lineout and van der Flier was the man in the van for the try which Byrne topped up for 34-17 on the hour.
At this stage, it was all Leinster, Gibson-Park flashing passes left and right. The maul was good again and one replacement Luke McGrath put another Jason Jenkins in unopposed for a fifth converted try.
The wind had been taken from the sails of Toulouse, Leinster inviting Harry Byrne to take over the reins from his brother.
The intensity of van der Flier in chasing the younger Byrne’s kick was rewarded with an uncharacteristic error by Ramos.
It was a case of stalemate. Leinster went into control mode, using the percentage plays to keep Toulouse and Dupont, in particular, locked down.
The clock had coloured red by the time Jack Willis piled over from a maul for nothing more than a consolation.