Murray Kinsella reports from Stade Ernest Wallon
TOULOUSE’S JOYOUS CELEBRATIONS at the end said it all.
The four-times winners, back in the Heineken Champions Cup after missing out on involvement last season, made a thrilling statement of their potential against Leinster, edging a riveting contest on a 28-27 scoreline.
In doing so, they showed that talk of Leinster being potentially unbeatable in the aftermath of last weekend’s hammering of Wasps had been foolish.
Though Toulouse have retreated out of the limelight in recent years, they have been slowly growing as a force, with talented homegrown players leading the revival.
This three-try victory over defending champions Leinster represents a huge step in the journey, particularly given how it was sealed with a stunning length-of-the-field try finished by Maxime Médard, a relative veteran at the age of 31.
For Leinster, this narrow defeat will be extremely frustrating, especially as their errors played a part in Toulouse bursting into a 14-0 lead inside the opening quarter.
Leo Cullen’s men did force their way back in front in the second half, leading 27-21, but Toulouse produced a strong finish to shock Leinster with that scintillating Médard try, converted by composed fullback Thomas Ramos.
“We knew what all the things at the start of the game would mean to them, what that would bring to the game for them,” said Cullen post-match in Toulouse. “We were probably a little too inaccurate at the start and they built that 14-point lead.
“I thought we showed pretty good composure and fought our way back into the game and obviously they scored just before half-time but, even at that, I think the lads knew that if they held onto the ball a little bit better and controlled possession that there were going to be opportunities and space out there.
“27-21, three tries, we were looking pretty strong at that stage with 55 minutes gone.
“It’s disappointing for us not to push on from there. We have a lineout, they make a good read, come up with an intercept and go the length of the field and it’s those big moments in the game.
“I thought they did incredibly well in terms of their ability to execute once they make the intercept and the read but, from our point of view, there are so many different things in both halves of the game where we cough up positions too cheaply to feed what their strength is – that unstructured, chaotic game and the pace they have out wide.
“It’s not ideal. We didn’t put enough of a squeeze on them and, ultimately, that’s what’s cost us but there’s plenty to take out of the game.”
The manner in which Toulouse attacked Leinster – in possession, at the set-piece, in defence – was a stark contrast to the limp effort Wasps had delivered in their 52-3 defeat at the RDS in the first round.
Leinster had never let themselves get carried away by that eight-try success, but the atmosphere and challenge they faced in Toulouse were on a different scale.
“It’s very different coming away here, what it means to them being back in Europe and back at home, all that goes with that,” said Cullen. “It was a huge occasion for them and you could see what it meant to them.
“It was a huge occasion for us as well but, for whatever reason, we were just a little bit off and sometimes that’s all it takes, where you’re just not quite respecting possession enough and you think you’re going to get into that free-flowing game that we maybe were in the second half [against Wasps].
“A lot of work obviously went into getting to that point and away from home, sometimes you need to manage the conditions slightly differently. There’s plenty for us to work on.”
Cullen warned that Bath, who Leinster face twice in December, will be “scrapping for their lives” in Pool 1, but the Irish province remain in a good position to advance.
Toulouse lead the group on eight points, with Leinster two behind, Bath on four and Wasps coming up the rear on three.
Losing openside flanker Josh van der Flier just 18 minutes into this evening’s meeting with Toulouse was far from helpful for Leinster, although he will hope to be back in action soon after suffering a head injury.
Van der Flier didn’t undergo a Head Injury Assessment as Leinster had seen him displaying symptoms of a head injury, meaning Sean O’Brien completed the game in his place.
“He just had a criteria one [meaning he had to be instantly removed and kept off], so he took a bit of a bang and had a bit of a stumble when he came up, so that’s just a straight removal for him,” said Cullen.
“Other than that, just a few bangs and knocks – we haven’t got a full medical update yet. It was pretty physical out there.”
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