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Leinster 40-17 Toulouse
“We’re going to Marseille” bellowed the stadium announcer as Leinster booked their place in the final against either La Rochelle or Racing with a stunning performance in the Dublin sun.
If Leinster are crowned European champions for a fifth time then they would draw level with Toulouse for most titles won, and their vanquished French foes must know that the chances of the Irish side being stopped are slim.
Toulouse were simply outclassed in what was billed as the closest thing you could get to a Test battle, considering there were 14 internationals in Leinster’s starting XV and eight capped Frenchmen in the visitors’ ranks.
If there were any mitigating factors it would come in the fact that Toulouse clearly looked fatigued after their 100-minute-plus quarter-final seven days ago, as shown by Leinster having 61 per cent possession in the first half.
Leinster captain Johnny Sexton said the result needed to be taken with “a pinch of salt” due to the fatigue and travel Toulouse had experienced in the previous past week.
However, Toulouse captain Jerome Kaino made no excuses and believes Leinster will be a difficult to beat in the final regardless of whether it is La Rochelle or Racing who face off in the second semi-final on Sunday.
“The boys are disappointed with the result but how ruthless Leinster are, we need to reflect and digest how we could have been better. It just wasn’t close,” he said.
“I think if Leinster play like that against any team, they will be hard to beat. That pace, that intensity, that organisation, it is definitely an international level type of game [they play].”
Playing the underdog has always suited the traditional Irish temperament. It is how Munster came so agonisingly close to beating this same Toulouse side last week when they lost out on a penalty shoot-out after extra time.
In years gone by, the Irish media always described the French club as “Europe’s aristocrats of rugby” with their five European titles, but Leinster since 2009 have amassed four.
And after their fast and furious start to vanquish Leicester last weekend, they were favourites coming into this fixture. Twenty years ago Leinster, which encompasses Dublin and 11 surrounding counties, were considered a fringe interest outside the privileged, leafy enclaves of the capital. But success breeds success and with Dublin being the only major European capital that does not have regular Champions League football their rugby side have become the people’s team and here they had over 42,000 vocal fans cheering them on. With one of the best academy systems in the world and the benefits of a centralised coaching system this is now a side that expects to win.
They coped well with the early loss of Lions tighthead Tadhg Furlong due to injury, with their talisman once again being Sexton – a man who both typifies their ruthless desire to win and also possesses a relatability that draws in the masses. All the praise recently – and rightly so – in Europe has been given to Toulouse’s World Player of the Year, Antoine Dupont, but Sexton, who turns 37 in July, led the Leinster attack with a ruthlessness that shows his best is not behind him.
The Ireland captain conducted his side to a 30-10 lead by the 50-minute mark. Dupont may have had the first say with his seventh minute try where he ran almost the length of the Lansdowne Road pitch after picking up a stray Leinster ball.
Sexton showing his and his side’s relentless desire to win focused on his side’s mistakes. “What I was most pleased about was that we didn’t let the mistakes faze us. Going 7-3 down when we were dominating the first few minutes, we didn’t let that get on top of us and we just bounced back. When they scored the try to make it a two-score game again, we bounced back again,” he said.
“How we came back from the bad moments was probably what I was most pleased about. We did some good things and built on last week’s performance.
“We need to be better again in the final because at the end of the day, Toulouse played 100 minutes against Munster, had to travel home, had to travel here again.
“So, we’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt. This isn’t where we wanted to get to. We want to win the final, so we’ve achieved nothing yet.”
Leinster’s first try, which came after two Sexton penalties, was scored by New Zealand-born Ireland international wing James Lowe thanks to a brilliant inside pass from the veteran No 10. Josh van der Flier’s try, which came soon after, was set up by a Sexton dummy.
Openside Van der Flier is highly influential in Leinster’s dismantling of quality opposition in the speed he along with the Leinster back row colleagues he adds to his side’s rucks.
It was not that Toulouse were awful. They scrapped back with a try from replacement Selevasio Tolofua at 67 minutes, but Leinster were clinical, closing out the game even without Sexton who was replaced by the cool and canny Ross Byrne.
They had the final say with full-back Hugo Keenan dotting down with the final play of the game.
Scoring sequence: 3-0 Sexton pen, 3-5 Dupont try, 3-7 Ramos con, 6-7 Sexton pen, 11-7 Lowe try, 13-7 Sexton con, 18-7 Van der Flier try, 20-7 Sexton con, 20-10 Ramos pen, 23-10 Sexton pen, 28-10 Lowe try, 30-10 Sexton con, 30-15 Tolofua try, 30-17 Ramos con, 33-17 R Byrne pen, 38-17 Keenan try, 40-17 R Byrne con.
Leinster: H Keenan; J O'Brien, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (C Frawley 64), J Lowe; J Sexton (R Byrne 67), J Gibson Park (L McGrath 67); A Porter (C Healy 67), R Kelleher (D Sheehan 46 HIA?), T Furlong (M Ala'alatoa 16), R Molony, J Ryan (J McCarthy 76), C Doris, J van der Flier (R Ruddock 72), J Conan.
Toulouse: T Ramos; J Cruz Mallia, P Fouyssac (Z Holmes 63), P Ahki, M Lebel; R Ntamack, A Dupont; C Baille (R Neti 52, C Baille 68), J Marchand (P Mauvaka 52), D Aldegheri (D Ainu'u 56); R Arnold (T Flament 56), E Meafou (J Tekori 62); R Elstadt, F Cros, A Jelonch (S Tolofua 52).
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)