Champions Cup: Five takeaways from Leinster v Toulouse as Irish province take advantage of French side’s ill-discipline
Following Leinster’s 41-22 Champions Cup triumph over Toulouse in Dublin, Planet Rugby picks out five takeaways from Saturday’s action.
The top line
In a game that promised so much, the only thing that was delivered was a reminder of how good Leinster are as they took advantage of two yellow card incidents to hammer Toulouse.
Player of the match Jamison Gibson-Park ran the show from nine quite brilliantly as he, for the second time this season, put down an emphatic marker in eclipsing his opposite number, the great Antoine Dupont. Up front, some massive shifts from Jack Conan, who crossed twice in the space of four minutes during the first yellow card, James Ryan, who was a physical nuisance all afternoon, and Josh van der Flier literally blew Toulouse away during those 14-man periods.
It was a hard day at the office for the visitors; banking on a 6-2 bench in a semi-final was a high-risk strategy, and when Pierre-Louis Barassi went off in the 14th minute, the Toulouse backline suffered almost terminal disruption. They lost a carrying centre but also chose to move Dupont to fly-half, a tactic that simply cluttered and confused their attack and, more importantly, their defence.
Nevertheless, Leinster move onto the Champions Cup final on 20th May with yet another win under their belts and, based upon their performance today, are going to be a tough nut to crack whoever they face out of La Rochelle and Exeter.
Built on defence
For all of the scoreline flattery, this Leinster win was one more delivered by their defence than their attack. During the periods that Toulouse maintained 15 players on the pitch, they actually won the match 22-13, which is astonishing given how disjointed they looked at times.
But a lot of that was down to the power and hunger of the Leinster ‘D’ and especially the chaos they caused around the breakdown. On three occasions, with the scores much tighter than the end result suggested, they managed to hold out the red and black wave, with Charlie Ngatai grabbing two crucial turnovers at close quarters.
At maul time, Ryan was wonderfully disruptive, and his skill in getting through the set pack into the carrier is almost peerless in European rugby right now, a task that was harder than usual given the sheer size of the Toulouse back five.
Pressure is a fickle mistress in rugby, and the way the Leinster defence went about applying it in every area of the pitch was an absolute credit to them and the key ingredient in their impressive win.
A tale of three cards
As noted, Leinster’s fertile scoring periods were when they applied the gas with Toulouse losing players to the bin. Thomas Ramos was the first to go, and some might think Wayne Barnes was slightly harsh in yellow-carding the full-back when he clearly tried (and almost succeeded) to intercept.
One might argue that at no point was his primary intention to knock on (which is exactly how the law is worded), and also that there was no clear scoring opportunity with three Toulouse players tracking back to cover, so the call to yellow was at best somewhat punchy.
Just before half-time, rather remarkably the team of officials and host broadcaster missed a horrendous tackle on Juan Cruz Mallia by prop Andrew Porter. Had Mallia had the ball at the time, it was a clear yellow, but as Jack Willis was still carrying it some three or four metres away, the incident could have potentially seen red, given it was completely off the ball.
It was an error by the officials and one that, if penalised correctly, may have changed some aspects of the scoreline. EPCR need to ask some serious questions about this incident, including asking the question why RTE, the host broadcaster, made a conscious choice NOT to replay it when it was clear that they had the footage.
The last yellow, to Rodrigue Neti, also seemed a tad harsh. Had he not moved his head to absorb a potential impact from the incoming Van der Flier, then no sanction would have been forthcoming, but given the current climate around HIA incidents, one could understand why he saw yellow, but it was another tight call on a day when every marginal seemed to go against the visitors.
Whilst one can begrudgingly forgive the officials (but not RTE, the host broadcaster) for not seeing Porter’s tackle, the application of the deliberate knock-on and mitigating its severity has been a recent focus of Tony Spreadbury’s EPCR ref briefings, and it’s perplexing why the messages he’s giving to the game are not being implemented.
Although Toulouse will undoubtedly be frustrated by both their own defence and the card calls, they can have no complaints about some of the impact of their own actions.
The Dupont move to 10 was simply a leap of faith too far. Against lesser opposition, it may have worked, but the little genius offers so much pace of play and speed of decision at the base that it was a big let-off for Leinster. Without him teasing the host’s back-rows and clearers, they had a field day in pressuring replacement nine Paul Graou, whose clearing and passing could almost be timed with a calendar compared to the lightning work of Dupont.
The change removed any of the usual 1/3/3 attacking shape we are used to seeing from the Red and Blacks, and importantly, it confused their kicking game immensely, with neither Dupont, Ramos or Romain Ntamack in the optimal positions to use their exquisite footballing skills.
Perhaps also in terms of team selection, Toulouse went big upfront when they needed to go with more skill. Certainly, Julien Marchand and Alexandre Roumat made differences when they came on and, with Francois Cros much preferring the flank to eight, one wonders if they’d do things differently if they started again?
However, the one bright spark for the visitors, and also for English watchers, was the relentless form of Jack Willis, who was easily Toulouse’s best player on the day. With 16 carries for 44m and a try, he’s bolted on another level to his superb game, and England will be delighted with the options he provides going into the World Cup.
The bottom line
Going back to selection for one moment, Ugo Mola may have been thinking of the physical job La Rochelle did last season against Leinster, informing his decision to go with his big men.
However, on the flip side, Leinster, beaten up in the forwards in last season’s final, proved that they have taken their physicality up another level. Ryan, Porter, and Conan were massive all afternoon in the power plays, and with Dan Sheehan, Van der Flier and Caelan Doris adding the spices and flavours in the pack, the Irish side looked far better equipped to deal with the power game should they face La Rochelle once more at the Aviva on 20th May.
But that isn’t a given. Exeter still might have something to say about who Leinster face in the final, and all eyes will be focused on the Atlantic coast of France on Sunday to see if the powerful La Rochelle continue their almost unstoppable march to the final.
If that happens, it’s a rematch of last year’s epic final, which saw the French side win 24-21 in the last play of the game.
READ MORE: Champions Cup: Slick Leinster reach another final as Toulouse implode
The article Champions Cup: Five takeaways from Leinster v Toulouse as Irish province take advantage of French side’s ill-discipline appeared first on Planetrugby.com.