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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 26 May, 2020

Leinster show their champion mettle to topple Toulouse in thrilling RDS battle

Leo Cullen’s side produced a breathtaking four-try performance to seize control of Pool 1.

Leinster 29

Toulouse 13

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS  

SIMPLY STUNNING. THIS was Leinster — the champions of Europe — at their outstanding big-game best.

Leo Cullen’s side, even without a raft of their frontline internationals, swatted fellow four-time winners Toulouse aside with an outstanding four-try performance for one of their great European victories. 

Adam Byrne celebrates his try with Jordan Larmour and Josh van der Flier Leinster celebrate Byrne's try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was a thrilling contest from start to finish as the two heavyweights went toe-to-toe in front of a febrile RDS crowd, but it was Leinster who showed all of their champion quality and mettle to seize control of Pool 1 with a round to go.

If this was the sternest test of the province’s Champions Cup defence, and the truest examination of their famed strength in depth following injuries to key personnel, then Leinster passed it with flying colours. And more.

To a man, the hosts were brilliant from the first until last minute as they conjured a relentless display in both defence and attack to subdue and dismantle the French visitors and earn a bonus-point victory which paves the way for an all-important home quarter-final.

Jack Conan’s first-half try set Leinster on their way and once they seized the scoreboard initiative, were never going to let it slip, as a thunderous second-half display saw Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin and Adam Byrne all cross to secure a 12th straight home European win.

Champion sides always find a way, and although Toulouse arrived in Dublin on a 12-game unbeaten run and with their heavy artillery in tow, Leinster’s want was much greater, as they battered the Top 14 outfit into submission. 

The forwards — imperious — laid the platform as they rolled up their sleeves and gained the upper hand in an uber-physical and competitive set-piece battle, while Garry Ringrose was in a league of his own again as he dictated proceedings with world-class swagger. Ross Byrne, too, showed huge leadership qualities.

Rhys Ruddock led from the front in exemplary fashion, James Ryan was a menace all afternoon, Josh van der Flier got through huge work on both sides of the ball, and the backline — with an average age of 24 — hummed. 

Defensively, Leinster never took a back step and kept the explosive Toulouse backline try-less until the last play of the game, when Cheslin Kolbe streaked clear for a mere consolation score. At that stage, the contest was well over, for this was Leinster’s day.

Cullen’s side now hold a three-point advantage over Toulouse heading into next Sunday’s round six clash with Wasps in Coventry, and victory there would assure the holders of a home quarter-final. 

Garry Ringrose is tackled by Romain Ntamack Ringrose was outstanding for Leinster. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The contest started at a million miles an hour, both sides bringing an utterly relentless intensity to the piece which had the capacity crowd inside the RDS on the edge of their seats from the outset.

In the absence of Johnny Sexton, Ringrose was absolutely central to everything Leinster did, and the centre made the hosts tick throughout with his intelligent playmaking ability, capacity to glide over the turf, electric footwork and spatial awareness all coming to the fore. 

Ringrose’s early dance into contact from Thomas Ramos’ kick-off ignited a rollicking opening quarter, as Leinster came out of the traps firing with Ruddock breaking through like a runaway train, van der Flier coming up with a trademark turnover and Cronin smashing the young Toulouse out-half off the back of a lineout with aggressive intent. Welcome to Dublin, Thomas. 

And Cullen’s side hit the front on the scoreboard after a probing passage inside the Toulouse 22, as Ringrose whipped it wide for Cronin to charge up the left, and when Leinster changed the point of attack, Ross Byrne was caught high under the posts. 3-0.

Ringrose again provided the outlet from the restart after Kearney had safely secured possession on this near side, but the pass left put van der Flier under pressure, and the flanker knocked on as he was met by the red wall. 

It allowed Toulouse lay down a significant marker at the set-piece, as the visitors used the platform to move it left, carrying hard into contact, as the rampaging Charlie Faumuina trampled over Conan to bring his side within striking distance.

Leinster scrambled in defence and although Tadhg Furlong and Scott Fardy made huge hits to repel the initial onslaught, Toulouse maintained the pressure and were awarded a scrum penalty by Luke Pearce, as the English referee penalised Healy on this loosehead side. 3-3.

You wouldn’t dare take your eyes off it for a second. 

Toulouse, committed to playing the ball out of their own territory, were guilty of forcing it on occasion and another knock-on in midfield allowed Jordan Larmour produce a magical step as Leinster entered attacking mode once again. 

The fullback scythed through with that glorious agility and turn of pace, but when faced one-on-one with Maxime Médard, could have turned right where he had support runners in tow, but instead opted to back himself and was swallowed up by the defensive cover. 

Leinster, with the capacity home crowd urging them on at every opportunity, displayed excellent and patient ball retention through the phases, as they kept it tight around the fringes to punch holes, while varying the point of attack by throwing it wide through the hands. 

Tadhg Furlong with Cheslin Kolbe Furlong runs into Cheslin Kolbe. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Once the space on the outside was manufactured, Fardy offloaded right to Rory O’Loughlin, who in turn looked to hit Adam Byrne on his shoulder, but Yoann Huget did brilliantly to get back and prevent a certain try in the far corner. As it was, Toulouse slowed the ball down and Julien Marchard got over Ryan, who found himself isolated on the ground, to win a huge turnover after 38 gruelling and gripping phases.

This was European rugby at its best. Sofiane Guitone ran straight through Byrne off a Toulouse lineout on halfway, but the hosts were reprieved when the inside ball for Huget hit the deck, and then, at the other end, Leinster found the breakthrough their full-tilt first-half display deserved.

Larmour and Kearney linked, before Luke McGrath galloped clear and Ringrose was caught high by Jerome Kaino, for Byrne to launch one down the touchline and set up another prime attacking position.  

The lineout was scrappy but Leinster retained control and through another big set-piece, McGrath looked to snipe and wriggle his way over, but after video recourse with his TMO, Pearce concluded the scrum-half was held up.

There was no stopping the blue wave in the next passage, however. Leinster opted for another scrum after Rynhardt Elstadt infringed and this time they changed tact by moving it wide, with Ringrose again at the heart of it, as he swung a gorgeous pass out to Byrne on the right.

The winger slipped the tackle, and although he was hauled down just short by Huget, quick ball allowed Conan to bludgeon and muscle his way over from close range for a 35th-minute seven-pointer. 

But Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will have been frustrated by the closing minutes of an exhilarating first stanza, as Byrne’s attempted basketball pass to Ringrose was loose and Toulouse threatened an instant response as Kolbe got his hands on the ball, forcing O’Loughlin to handle it on the ground.

Ramos duly knocked over his second penalty with the aid of a stiff breeze. 10-6 at the break. Engrossing, and on a knife-edge.

Jack Conan scores his sides first try Conan muscled his way over for a first-half try. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

There was no let-up on the restart, as Leinster — through a series of big moments — continued to deliver a flurry of knockout blows during a rip-roaring third quarter salvo.

While Toulouse were unwavering in their commitment to play it out from the back, Leinster exerted huge pressure through lightning-fast linespeed and pinned the visitors inside their own 22, before Byrne delivered the pièce de résistance.

Ryan’s counter-ruck set the wheels in motion, Cronin’s bulldozing run got Leinster over the gainline, and just when it looked like the hosts had run out of ideas, Byrne produced a moment of magic.

The 23-year-old out-half mixed vision and execution to send a perfect kick-pass left for Kearney, who soared high above the covering tacklers to finish in some style, as he showed dexterity and awareness to keep his body inside the white line under pressure from Romain Ntamack. Glorious. 

Toulouse were rattled and as their unforced error count rose, Leinster took full advantage to streak clear on the scoreboard. Conan went close on the far side off a well-worked lineout, and after pitching tent through phase-after-phase, crossed for the third courtesy of Cronin. 

It was a score engineered and finished by the forwards, as the hosts stuck it up their jumper and through a passage of pick-and-jam rugby, pummelled their way towards the line to make their pressure eventually tell.

Byrne added the extras for a commanding 22-6 lead. Now, to manage the end-game and see it out. Cullen was forced into a change at nine after losing McGrath to a serious-looking leg injury in the build-up to Cronin’s score, while Leinster introduced fresh legs in James Tracy and Ed Byrne.

Leinster had shown all their discipline, accuracy and quality in attack, but this win was manufactured by an immense defensive effort, as the province’s rearguard simply refused to be breached. 

Dave Kearney scores a try despite Romain Ntamack Kearney finished brilliantly in the corner. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was the replacement hooker Tracy who eventually won a match-clinching turnover after a Toulouse onslaught, during which they launched wave-after-wave of attack on the Leinster line to no avail.

Ryan, Ruddock and van der Flier weren’t prepared to surrender, and the primal roar from the 18,493 inside this fortress very nearly lifted the roof off the old Anglesea Stand, but Leinster weren’t finished there.

More pressure forced Kolbe into an error, Andrew Porter made his impact over the ball and Jamison Gibson-Park spotted the opportunity out right, as the quick penalty sent Byrne galloping over for a sweet bonus-point try. 

What a time to remind Europe just why you’re champions. Shorn of Sexton, Rob Kearney, Dan Leavy, Robbie Henshaw and Devin Toner, they still get the job done. The squad depth is unrivalled. Never in doubt.

This was the performance of champions; Leinster are the team to beat again.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Jack Conan, Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin, Adam Byrne.
Conversions: Ross Byrne [2 from 3], Noel Reid [1 from 1].
Penalties: Ross Byrne [1 from 1].

Toulouse scorers:

Tries: Cheslin Kolbe.
Conversions: Cheslin Kolbe [1 from 1].
Penalties: Thomas Ramos [2 from 2].

LEINSTER: 15. Jordan Larmour, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Rory O’Loughlin (Conor O’Brien 76′), 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Ross Byrne (Noel Reid 72′) , 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 60′); 1. Cian Healy (Ed Byrne 60′), 2. Sean Cronin (James Tracy 60′), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter 60′), 4. Scott Fardy (Ross Molony 76′), 5. James Ryan, 6. Rhys Ruddock (captain), 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan (Max Deegan 72′).

TOULOUSE: 15. Maxime Médard, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Sofiane Guitoune, 12. Romain Ntamack (Sebastien Bezy 55′), 11. Yoann Huget, 10. Thomas Ramos (Zack Holmes 49′), 9. Antoine Dupont; 1. Clément Castets (Cyril Baille 52′), 2. Julien Marchand (captain) (Peato Mauvaka 53′), 3. Charlie Faumuina (Dorian Aldegheri 32′), 4. Richie Arnold, 5. Joe Tekori (Piula Faasalel 57′), 6. Francois Cros (Louis Madaule 69′), 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 8. Jerome Kaino.

Replacements not used: 21. Alban Placines.

Referee: Luke Pearce [RFU].

Attendance: 18,493.

Ahead of a huge weekend of Heineken Champions Cup action, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey assess the provinces’ chances of putting a foot in the last eight:

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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