Dan Sheehan breaks clear for Leinster.
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Red-hot Leinster blow Toulouse away to grab Champions Cup final spot

Leo Cullen’s men scored five tries as they underlined their determination to add a fifth star.

Leinster 41

Toulouse 22

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Leinster boss Leo Cullen took issue with what he perceives as the hype that has been created around his team. Performances like this one are only going to fuel the fanfare.

The Irish province made Toulouse, an excellent team in their own right, look ordinary for all but fleeting passages. The Top 14 side simply had no answers for Leinster’s cohesive, clinical, athletic, and skillful brilliance on many occasions. It was all reminiscent of how Leinster hammered Toulouse in last year’s semi-final in Dublin.

Leinster are into the Champions Cup final, which takes place back here at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 20 May. They might well face the team they lost to in last season’s decider, La Rochelle, who take on Exeter in the other semi in Bordeaux tomorrow. Leinster will be favourites either way.

In front of a vocal crowd of 46,823 in Dublin, Cullen’s men took full advantage of a yellow card in either half for Toulouse, scoring 28 points in that combined 20-minute window.

They showed they can do it at 15 v 15 too, with their clever attack always finding ways to push Toulouse to breaking point.

There were outstanding performers across the pitch, with scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park at his creative best to earn the player of the match award, hooker Dan Sheehan underlining that he’s one of the very best, and number eight Jack Conan fully justifying his starting place. 

andrew-porter-tadhg-furlong-and-caelan-doris-celebrate-after-josh-van-der-flier-scores Dan Sheridan / INPHO Leinster had too much quality for Toulouse. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

No Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, or James Lowe? No problem for Leinster. Ross Byrne started at out-half again and kicked at 100% off the tee for a 16-point haul, while Charlie Ngatai was excellent at inside centre as he played for the first time since January.

Jordan Larmour was part of a strong back three showing as Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien once again showed their class. Meanwhile, the Leinster pack had some dominant moments, including a maul try in the second half.

Conan dotted down twice, Sheehan finished with remarkable pace, and there were tries for Josh van der Flier and replacement lock Jason Jenkins. Leinster were only five points off the record for most points scored in a Champions Cup semi-final and just a try off equalling the record of six.

There are weapons everywhere in this Leinster team and they more than lived up to their status as the seven-point favorites in this game.

Toulouse will rue the yellow cards for fullback Thomas Ramos and replacement loosehead prop Rodrigue Neti in either half, but such was Leinster’s accuracy and execution, you’d have fancied them to win without the numerical advantages. The French side were also hit by a 16th-minute injury for centre Pierre-Louis Barassi that meant brilliant scrum-half Antoine Dupont had to move to out-half. This is the risk of a 6/2 bench split and Toulouse suffered.

Leinster’s attention turns back to the URC now with the Sharks of South Africa coming here next weekend, but their determination to draw level with Toulouse on five Champions Cup titles is excitingly clear.

pita-ahki-celebrates-after-scoring-with-thomas-ramos-and-matthis-lebel Billy Stickland / INPHO Toulouse scored an early try through Pita Ahki. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

With the sun having emerged in Dublin, this semi-final was living up to the billing inside the first two minutes as Toulouse made an imposing start before Leinster countered out of their own 22 through Ngatai.

It was the home side who struck first on the scoreboard, Byrne slotting three points after Toulouse back row Jack Willis was penalised for not rolling away from his tackle.

But the visitors had the first try in the ninth minute, the score stemming from a brilliant 50:22 kick by Ramos. From the left-hand-side lineout, the French team powered around the corner at Leinster, Willis making the key carry through Ngatai and Byrne, before they swung back to their left as passes from Romain Ntamack and wing Matthis Lebel allowed centre Pita Ahki to finish with a man to spare outside him.

A darting run from Garry Ringrose then drew Toulouse hooker Peato Mauvaka into a high tackle and Byrne was on target from in front of the posts.

Leinster’s attack was beginning to make big inroads, while Toulouse’s error count rose, and there were key back-to-back moments around the 16-minute mark.

First, Barassi was forced off injured, meaning key man Dupont had to shift to out-half due to his side having only two backs on the bench, with scrum-half Paul Graou sent on. Ntamack moved into the midfield.

jack-conan-celebrates-after-he-scores-his-sides-first-try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Jack Conan scored twice in the first half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Then, in the very next passage, Ramos was sin-binned for slapping down Gibson-Park’s pass when it would have sent O’Brien scurring away down the left touchline. It was a clear yellow.

Leinster took full advantage, scoring on their next attack. Sheehan broke off the maul powerfully, O’Brien went close off another sharp Gibson-Park pass to the left, then it was Conan who barged through Richie Arnold to finish. Byrne converted for 13-7.

Four minutes later, they were over again. This time, Sheehan showed off his footwork for an impactful carry close to the ruck and Gibson-Park once again went down the shortside on the left. Van der Flier sent Conan up the touchline and the number eight sold a lovely dummy to Juan Cruz Mallia to cross. Byrne was on target. 20-7 Leinster, just like that.

Ngatai’s breakdown turnover gave Leinster one other chance before Ramos returned, but O’Brien’s apparent score in the left corner was chalked off as Wayne Barnes and TMO Stuart Terheege ruled that he has just lost control of the ball. 

Ramos was back on, to Toulouse’s relief, but they instantly conceded a third. It was another big error as Graou’s panicky pass bounced off Willis’ chest near the Toulouse 22 and right into Sheehan’s hands. His pace was astonishing as he scooted away from Dupont and Ramos. The reliable Byrne added the extras again.

dan-sheehan-celebrate-after-he-scores-a-try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheehan celebrates. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Toulouse needed something big to get them back in the game and it was the biggest man of all, mammoth second row Emmanuel Meafou, who delivered. He won a muscular breakdown turnover and then finished powerfully on the ensuing lineout attack. Just before, Andrew Porter had dumped Mallia in a tackle just after he passed, but there was no review from Barnes and co.

Ramos converted to leave the scoreline at 27-14 and though Ngatai’s classy 50:22 kick allowed Leinster more access before the break, a Mauvaka turnover meant les Toulousains survived.

They had a chance to draw closer early in the second half as they piled on the pressure in Leinster’s 22 but it was a tackle from the influential Ngatai that forced Mauvaka into knocking the ball forward for the turnover. 

With the rain now coming down, both sides leaned on their kicking games, while the head coaches also sent some of their heavy-duty replacements into the fray.

Loosehead prop Rodrigue Neti helped Toulouse to a dominant scrum penalty that Ramos fired over to draw his side back to within 10 points but Neti was soon heading for the sin bin.

TMO Terheege called for the review and it showed that Neti had thrust his head up into van der Flier’s head as the Leinster flanker looked to counter-ruck. Referee Barnes decided it was yellow but there an additional toll almost instantly.

jason-jenkins-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-andrew-porter-and-michael-alaalatoa Billy Stickland / INPHO Jason Jenkins scored Leinster's fifth try. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster kicked into the right corner and their maul proved unstoppable, with van der Flier the man to dot down at the tail. Byrne tacked on the two extra points and Leinster were 34-18 to the good heading into the final quarter.

The misery continued for Toulouse when sub scrum-half Luke McGrath sent Jenkins thundering over for Leinster’s fifth try, while Byrne continued to kick metronomically. 

Toulouse finished with a consolation score from the maul but there was no doubting Leinster’s superiority.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Jack Conan [2], Dan Sheehan, Josh van der Flier, Jason Jenkins

Conversions: Ross Byrne [5 from 5]

Penalties: Ross Byrne [2 from 2]

Toulouse scorers:

Tries: Pita Ahki, Emmanuel Meafou, Thibaud Flament

Conversions: Thomas Ramos [2 from 3]

Penalties: Thomas Ramos [1 from 1] 

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Charlie Ngatai  (Ciarán Frawley ’54), Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne (Harry Byrne ’71), Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ’62); Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ’68), Dan Sheehan (John McKee ’68), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Ala’alatoa ’59); Ross Molony (Jason Jenkins ’54), James Ryan (captain); Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan (Ryan Baird ’65).

TOULOUSE: Thomas Ramos (yellow card ’16); Juan Cruz Mallía (Arthur Retiere ’69), Pierre-Louis Barassi (Paul Graou ’15), Pita Ahki. Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille (Rodrigue Neti ’51 (yellow card ’57)), Peato Mauvaka (Julien Marchand ’51), Dorian Aldegheri (David Ainu’u ’60); Richie Arnold (Alexandre Roumat ’51), Emmanuel Meafou (Rynhardt Elstadt ’65); Jack Willis, Thibaud Flament (Cyril Baille ’67), Francois Cros (Alban Placines ’65).

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

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