Leinster lose in Europe again as Toulon rumble to second-half comeback

Leo Cullen’s men have now lost all four of their pool fixtures in the Champions Cup.

Leinster 16

Toulon 20

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium

LEINSTER’S MISERABLE EUROPEAN season continued as Leo Cullen’s men delivered a poor second-half performance in a 20-16 win for three-time champions Toulon in Dublin.

Jamie Heaslip dejected after his side conceded a penalty try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There will be sheer frustration among the Leinster group this evening due to the fact that they were excellent in the opening 40 minutes, earning themselves a 16-5 lead at the break and suggesting that they could finally secure a win in the Champions Cup.

However, they were dominated territorially by the French side after the interval, conceding 15 points and failing to score a single one themselves. Indeed, Cullen’s side struggled badly to even get out of their own half and build pressure on Toulon.

While the first half saw the likes of Johnny Sexton and particularly Luke Fitzgerald look sharp in attack, they were starved of the opportunity to build on that after half time, as Toulon’s pure power and ability to control the game sprung into life.

The Top 14 outfit were never free-flowing in their attacking game, but their set-piece strength was telling. A penalty try from the scrum and a superb maul try added to Juan Smith’s score in the opening half and although they had a poor day off the tee, Bernard Laporte’s men finished firmly on top.

Leinster scored a penalty try of their own through the maul, but their only other source of scoring was the boot of Sexton.

Leinster’s sole focus is now the Guinness Pro12 and Cullen must hope he can deliver in that competition. The expectation is that the remaining two pool fixtures in Europe in January will be used to give promising young players like Garry Ringrose, the 24th man today, an opportunity to garner experience and prove their ability.

A superb turnover penalty won by Richardt Strauss allowed Sexton to open the lead for Leinster after 11 minutes, before a smashing hit from Mike McCarthy – superb on his 300th senior cap – on Romain Taofifenua allowed Fitzgerald to deftly gather and hack forward.

Ben Te'o celebrates as Leinster win a penalty try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster swarmed onto Toulon fullback Delon Armitage to turnover possession again, hammering towards to tryline only for Duane Vermeulen to blatantly enter a ruck from the side, earning himself a clear yellow card.

Leinster opted for the scrum, allowing Jamie Heaslip, Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock to hammer into the carry, but Fitzgerald’s final pass in the left corner to the completely unmarked Dave Kearney was just cut out by Bryan Habana.

Cullen’s men were back in the same corner within two minutes, however, conjuring a superb maul from a five-metre lineout to surge towards and over the Toulon line. Referee Wayne Barnes headed under the posts for the penalty try as the French side collapsed, allowing Sexton an easy conversion for 10-0 with just a quarter played.

Finally chastened into life, Toulon built a score of their own from a five-metre lineout after Barnes adjudged that Rob Kearney had failed to roll away from a tackle to provide van der Flier with a turnover chance.

Toulon battered at the Leinster line, dragging in defenders until a clear overlap was created to the left of the posts. Isa Nacewa shot out of the line in a despairing effort to shut the play down, but Guilhem Guirado’s pass flew beyond him to allow Juan Smith to cross.

A breakdown infringement from Steffon Armitage saw Sexton put Leinster 13-5 to the good with 33 minutes elapsed – Eric Escande having missing the Toulon conversion – before Leinster finished the half superbly.

Sexton turned over Bryan Habana in the choke tackle, and then Fitzgerald attacked out of his own 22, destroying World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu with his dancing footwork and then offloading to Ruddock – who had an earlier rampage off a sharp Sexton inside pass.

Juan Smith scores a try despite Jack McGrath Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ruddock’s offload to Eoin Reddan was frustratingly forward, but then Delon Armitage summed up Toulon’s lack of discipline by dropping a shoulder into the Leinster scrum-half after the whistle. Sexton slammed over the penalty from distance for a 16-5 half-time lead.

Escande missed from the tee again early in the second half after Leinster deliberately brought a Toulon maul to deck, but it was the home side’s defence that stood out in the third quarter of the game.

Nacewa led a huge shift featuring a considerably greater number of wins in the collisions than last week, while the likes of van der Flier at least slowed ball. But the territorial dominance from Toulon began to tell as Leinster’s tackle count flew well beyond the 100 mark.

Drew Mitchell should have had a try in the 54th minute when Tom Taylor’s pass found him in space wide on the left and the Australian somehow spilled the ball. Just three minutes later, Mitchell was within striking distance again but Leinster held on.

This time, Nonu’s overhead pass found the left wing and he burst for the corner, only for the tackle of replacement hooker Sean Cronin to shove him over the touchline. That appeared to signal relief for Leinster but they botched the defensive lineout.

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Cronin’s throw missed his man and Toulon battered towards the line. Duane Vermeulen, their formidable number eight got himself over but van der Flier, Nacewa and sub lock Tom Denton combined to hold him up, the TMO confirming as much.

Still Toulon came and the pressure finally saw Leinster crack as Cian Healy – on for the excellent Jack McGrath – was bettered at scrum time be Levan Chilachava and Barnes headed under the posts immediately for the penalty try.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Replacement fullback Tom Taylor added the easy two points and Toulon proceeded to come back at Leinster once again. Healy gave up a penalty in the tackle, Matt Giteau kicked them into the Leinster 22 and the Toulon maul rumbled.

Hooker Anthony Etrillard was the man to dot down at the back of a patient, cohesive Toulon effort, and although Taylor missed the conversion he was on target with a penalty in the 74th minute to send Toulon 20-16 in front.

The three-time champions thought they had notched the bonus point in the 79th minute, but Mamuka Gorgodze’s effort was ruled out after Barnes consulted with his TMO and found the Georgian had scooped the ball from an illegal position before reaching out to dot down.

Leinster had one final chance to salvage something, but the out-of-form Healy knocked the ball on just inside the Toulon half.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Penalty try

Conversions: Johnny Sexton (1 from 1)

Penalties: Johnny Sexton (3 from 3)

Toulon scorers:

Tries: Juan Smith, Penalty try, Anthony Etrillard

Conversions: Eric Escande (0 from 1), Tom Taylor (1 from 2)

Penalties: Eric Escande (0 from 1), Tom Taylor (1 from 1)

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Ben Te’o (Ian Madigan ’40), Luke Fitzgerald, Isa Nacewa (capt.); Johnny Sexton (Zane Kirchner ’67), Eoin Reddan (Nick McCarthy ’77); Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’47), Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin ’47), Mike Ross (Marty Moore ’25); Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy (Tom Denton ’57); Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip (Jordi Murphy ’70; yellow card ’78)).

TOULON: Delon Armitage (Tom Taylor ’47); Bryan Habana, Mathieu Bastareaud, Ma’a Nonu, Drew Mitchell; Matt Giteau (capt.), Eric Escande (Sebastien Tillous-Borde ’47); Florian Fresia (Xavier Chiocci ’48), Guilhem Guirado (Anthony Etrillard ’50), Matt Stevens (Levan Chilachava ’48); Jocelino Suta (Mamuka Gorgodze), Romain Taofifenua (Konstantine Mikautadze – concussion bin ’13 to ’20; permanent ’51); Juan Smith (Juan Fernandez Lobbe ’57), Steffon Armitage, Duane Vermeulen (yellow card ’13).

Referee: Wayne Barnes.

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Murray Kinsella

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