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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 19 May, 2019
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The dream of an All-Ireland European final is dead, but Leinster’s hope of defending their Champions Cup crown lives on.

The reigning champions are on home turf this glorious afternoon to host their fellow four-time winners Toulouse (kick-off 15.15, Virgin Media, Channel 4 and BT Sport).

Twice champions Saracens await the victors after their impressive accounting for Munster in Coventry yesterday.

Leinster have struggled for form in the window since the Six Nations, but they will be bullish about their chances of negating Toulouse’s thrilling counter-attack threat today to join the English champions in a Newcastle decider on 11 May.

You may or may not have already seen the news filter through, but Leinster have been forced into a late change in the back row.

Rhys Ruddock has reported ill, so the grizzled figure of Scott Fardy will jump off the bench and into the number 6 shirt.

Caelan Doris is promoted to the bench to provide back row cover alongside Max Deegan, the 21-year-old will be making his European Cup debut if he is called as a replacement.

Here’s the updated full line-ups on show this afternoon.

Leinster:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Sean Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Scott Fardy
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

16. James Tracy
17. Ed Byrne
18. Michael Bent
19. Caelan Doris
20. Max Deegan
21. Hugh O’Sullivan
22. Ross Byrne
23. Rory O’Loughlin.

Toulouse:

15. Thomas Ramos
14. Yoann Huget
13. Sofiane Guitoune
12. Pita Ahki
11. Cheslin Kolbe
10. Antoine Dupont
9. Sébastien Bézy

1. Clément Castets
2. Peato Mauvaka
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Richie Arnold
5. Richie Gray
6. Rynhardt Elstadt
7. Joe Tekori
8. Jerome Kaino (captain)

Replacements:

16. Guillaume Marchand
17. Cyril Baille
18. Maks Van Dyk
19. Selevasio Tolofua
20. Piula Faasalele
21. Francois Cros
22. Romain Ntamack
23. Maxime Médard.

Referee: Wayne Barnes [England].

There are days when the shade of the Aviva stadium stand can leave you a tad cold, but the heat is permeating throughout the ground today.

The majority of Leinster’s players are warming up in hot sunshine at the Havelock Square end of the field. Toulouse are enjoying a little shelter down the way.

James Lowe during the warm up Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The presence of James Lowe really does pose an exciting prospect today. The Kiwi hasn’t featured in Europe since December, but his dynamic running threat is a serious headache for defensive systems and tacklers to contend with. Add a formidable skill-set to that and Leinster have an extra few dimensions to their attack before you even consider the return of Johnny Sexton.

The heat is going to make it a tough day for the big men, and they don’t come much bigger than Devin Toner.

Devin Toner during the warm up Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The second row returned to action recently after missing the Six Nations through injury.

The late addition of Scott Fardy will undoubtedly change up his line-out options for the task ahead as the Australian is an accomplished jumper on both attacking and defensive ball.

But with no second row cover on the bench, who will last the pace against a big powerful pack featuring Richie Gray, Charlie Faumuina and Joe Tekori?

Less than 10 minutes to go until kick-off now, so it’s time for a score prediction.

While Leinster fans have expressed a little anxiety this week about their Pro14 form and indeed the close-run thing against Ulster in the last round, I don’t see them being undone on this stage today.

Toulouse will show flashes of their brilliance and make Leinster’s pack sweat and perhaps even wilt now and then, but the hosts, I think, will run out winners by something like 28-17.

The blue flags are flying, the pyrotechnics are burning and the teams are on the field.

The Aviva isn’t full, there are plenty of green seats left untaken, but a healthy and vocal crowd are waiting anxiously for this one none-the-less.

Who will be in Newcastle on 11 May? We’ll find out over the next two hours.

1Mins

KICK-OFF:

Sexton doesn’t really get a sweet connection with his kick off aimed at Cheslin Kolbe.

Toulouse kick to Kearney from their 22, Sexton attacks the line, but it’s a blind alley and the penalty goes the visitors’ way.

4Mins

Leinster certainly being made to sweat early on as Toulouse mount meaningful phases in attack. Kolbe cuts inside and evades Sean O’Brien before he’s chopped down in the 22.

Leinster hack clear, but Toulouse come back…

6Mins

Toulouse’s pressure tells as James Ryan is penalised at the breakdown to end a breathless set of phases.

PENALTY! Leinster 0 Toulouse 3 (Ramos ’5)

The fullback makes no mistake from wide on the right hand side. Brilliant start for the Top14 side.

8Mins

Sexton hit his second restart much better and Leinster were able to win a scrum on the 10 metre line.

A chance for the back-line to catch their breath while the pack continue the work.

It’s a fierce contest. Leinster look to get a nudge as the French voices in the stand begin to roar, but pressure comes from the visitors’ back row to bring us a reset.

9Mins

The free-kick went Leinster’s way and Conan quick-tapped to make 10 metres.

A penalty comes soon after an Sexton will get a chance to level the scores from 35 metres.

11Mins

PENALTY! Leinster 3 Toulouse 3 (Sexton ’10)

12Mins

Ramos has made a hames of the restart, sending the ball dribbling 50 metres all the way beyond the posts.

Leinster’s scrummaging unit will go back to work on halfway.

16Mins

A sensational individual finish from Lowe comes at the end of a terrific team attack.

Leinster’s attack off the scrum was clinical with lots of animation through the back-line to get them over the gainline on the right hand side.

With Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy making big carries, Leinster trundled on into the 22, but looked to lack width until Sean Cronin straightened nicely.

When Lowe got the pill, he still had plenty to do, but the wing bulldozed Bezy out of the way and had enough in the tank to get through the next 10 metres to the try-line despite a last-gasp tackle.

Sexton nails the conversion from way out on the left.

Leinster 10 Toulouse 3

18Mins

Leinster well in the swing of things now and Sexton is leading with a swagger. The 10 takes in a long clearance and attempts an audacious 50 metre drop-goal.

It falls short, but Toulouse are being given a right rattle now.

23Mins

The big red pack have done a good job of steadying the ship. They repelled Leinster while backed into their own 22. A misplaced Sexton kick and a James Ryan knock on later, Toulouse attack from inside their own half.

Huget makes the initial break, Kolbe kicks ahead, but Leinster manage to cover it off.

24Mins

Robbie Henshaw announces his return to the big stage in serious style. As the ball flies wide in broken field, the centre deftly steps away from trouble and kicks brilliantly down field.

He finds touch and though the line-out is taken quickly, he chases and charges down Ramos’ clearance.

With a little help from Toner and Fardy, he then forces a Leinster scrum after soemthing of a free for all on the deck.

24Mins

YELLOW CARD: Richie Gray

24Mins

The Toulouse lock is spotted with his hands on the ball as Leinster attempted to release an attack in the 22 and Barnes doesn’t waste time with a warning.

27Mins

Without Richie Gray, Toulouse’s maul is suddenly overmatched and the pack force the score.

Sexton is hitting the ball very sweetly now, pinging it through the posts from the right side this time.

Leinster 17 Toulouse 3

29Mins

A 14-point lead suddenly for Leinster and, really, you have to trace it all the way back to Thomas Ramos’ shocking restart after Sexton’s opening penalty.

Leinster scored in the set after that error and now they are in full command of this semi-final.

Flag 32Mins

SIN-BIN: Robbie Henshaw.

That’s much better from Toulouse, mounting pressure in the Leinster 22 with hard pick and drives before Henshaw is done for a deliberate knock on as he attempted to swipe a pass to Charlie Faumuina.

PENALTY! Leinster 17 Toulouse 6 (Ramos ’31)

An odd choice perhaps, to go for the posts by Toulouse. They appeared to have Leinster on the rack during the last set.

33Mins

We’re playing 14 v 14 then. So Leinster will be more than happy to retain possession and look after the ball while that remains the case.

Huget swipes a pass as he runs back from a lazy position, but his kick goes out on the full.

There is far worse news than a lost ball for Leinster though, as Sean Cronin is forced off with a knee injury.

James Tracy is in the game.

35Mins

Ooof! James Tracey welcomed to the contest with a large bang by Jerome Kaino.

Penalty comes a little wider on the left Leinster as Castets is penalised.

Richie Gray is back, so Sexton will take aim at the posts.

First miss of the day for Sexton, his kick from wide on the left drifts right and wide of the posts.

The kick exchange that followed ends with Tracy knocking on as he tried to gather a nasty bouncing ball.

40Mins

Well now. I was just preparing the half-time update there, but after a scrum penalty Sexton kicks long down the line for one last attack.

41Mins

Henshaw returned from the bin just as Sexton kicked for the corner, so Leinster attacking with their full arsenal.

The maul is stunted, but Leinster whip it wide and there seems to be a blocking line involved before Lowe repeats his trick of pushing a tackler aside and running in a try.

41Mins

The TMO and Barnes have a chat about the would-be score and they come to the right conclusion. Conan checked Guitoune and took the centre out of the defensive line. No try.

41Mins

And still this half plays on!

Toulouse could have ended the period, but they win another penalty inside Leinster’s half and now it’s they who are pushing for a score with the clock well in the red.

Mercifully, the half does eventually come to a close. Both sets of players really put to the test in the heat and intensity of that battle and the drop-off in energy was very noticable after the sin-bin periods.

CORRECTION:

We mistakenly awarded Leinster’s second try to Scott Fardy, but in fact it was Luke McGrath who grounded the ball after the maul.

We’ll chalk it down to the writhing mass of bodies and the mirage caused by the hazy April heat.

Here are some images from an impressive first-half from Leinster.

James Lowe celebrates scoring his sides first try with Devin Toner Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Thomas Ramos and Rob Kearney compete for a high ball

Sean O'Brien with Charlie Faumuina and Jerome Kaino

40Mins

Nice bit of Jump Around pumped out around the Aviva to greet the teams returning to the field.

Leinster are just 40 minutes from their fifth European Cup final.

42Mins

Robbie Henshaw continues to hound Toulouse’s playmakers as they attempt to weave some nice patterns and seek space.

The Athlone man and James Lowe were both close to stealing a loose ball as their pressure forced a spill, but they might have been too close to on another and the chance is lost with a Lowe spill.

43Mins

Max Deegan replaced Scott Fardy at the interval. Big chance for the one-time U20 World Cup finalists to make his mark on the big stage after a fine season in the Pro14.

Flag 44Mins

Ringrose penalised for a high tackle on little Anton Dupont.

Ramos will have a long pop at goal…

PENALTY! Leinster 17 Toulouse 9 (Ramos ’44)

He strikes it brilliantly, splitting the posts from over 45 metres on a tough angle from the right wing.

49Mins

We’re in a peculiar period of the game now, but Leinster appear to be doing the best at feeling their way into an attacking rhythm.

Sexton chips to the corner and Larmour’s chase forces a line-out as Kolbe collects and runs out.

51Mins

Toulouse stand firm. James Lowe is getting a bit of treatment, Johnny Sexton’s cross-field kick is poor and stolen by a red hand on the 22 metre line, but we go back for a penalty.

Leinster can go again from the line-out after Toulouse empty their bench.

Flag 53Mins

Oh my word. Another advantage in the offing and Sexton unleashes an enormous pass towards Larmour on the right.

For once, the wing can’t sidestep his way throug, but there is more than enough support coming and that man Scott Fardy – this time, definitely – gets the try.

TRY! Leinster 22 Toulouse 9 (Fardy ’53)

55Mins

Of course, I can’t award Fardy a try without some sort of confusion. The Wallaby was replaced by Max Deegan, but it was just a temporary measure – I’ll get confirmation on whether it was blood or HIA – and his return was announced for the set which ended in his score.

Sexton nails another conversion. He is showing no signs of rust in his first Leinster appearance of 2019.

Leinster 24 Toulouse 9

57Mins

Former Connacht man Pita Ahki has added regular boosts to the tempo in this Toulouse attack and the centre’s side step and grubber poses a little concern for Larmour as he turns towards his own line.

The young flyer succeeds in shepherding the danger though, for now.

59Mins

The addition of Romain Ntamack and Maxime Medard has breathed real life and invention into Toulouse’s attack.

They build pressure and back Leinster onto their try-line and Medard is very unfortunate not to complete a brilliant try when he chips over Devin Toner.

Garry Ringrose works back brilliantly to wrestle the ball and deny the try.

We go back for the penalty and Ntamack takes Toulouse into double figures.

PENALTY! Leinster 24 Toulouse 12 (Ntamack ’59)

64Mins

Leinster looked to have slipped into final quarter mode. Their is still plenty of time left in this one if they let the match get loose, but they attack in nice tight up-tempo formation and win a penalty 25 metres out.

Sexton is down and needs some treatment, but he looks like he’ll hop up and swing at this penalty shot.

66Mins

PENALTY! Leinster 27 Toulouse 12 (Sexton ’65)

Sexton splits the posts and doesn’t make it back into starting position before being called ashore.

His work is done, Ross Byrne is more than capable of closing this out.

70Mins

Toulouse were pressing, pressing, pressing in the hope of finally forcing a try. But their progress was slowed to a crawl inside Leinster’s five-metre line and a speculative pass to the short side by Dupont was picked off by Larmour.

The wing can’t quite get into open field, but the turnover is valuable.

75Mins

The reunion of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose as a centre partnership has made all the difference for Leinster today.

The 13 is so elusive in attack and his smooth running style fills so many defensive gaps effortlessly.

Henshaw has been a serious physical force to be reckoned with, but he is not short on athleticism and has also proven how light he can be on his feet at times today.

78Mins

PENALTY! Leinster 30 Toulouse 12 (Byrne ’78)

79Mins

The bench is empty it’s party time for Leinster as the entire field finds its way into the shade.

Holding Toulouse try-less is a hell of a feat, but if they can add another score to swell this lead it would be icing on the cake.

Flag 80Mins

FULL-TIME: Leinster will play Saracens in the Heineken Champions Cup final

Leinster 30 Toulouse 12

There we are then, Leinster will get a chance to defend their title and go for back-to-back crowns in Newcastle on 11 May.

Standing between them and a record fifth title will be Saracens, their predecessors as European champions.

It will be a fifth European Cup final for Leinster… they haven’t lost one yet.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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