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Dublin: 5°C Friday 5 March 2021

Johnny Sexton shines as Leinster set up European final with Saracens

Leo Cullen’s men will search for a record fifth title in Newcastle on 11 May.

Leinster 30

Toulouse 12

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium

THAT HE ATTEMPTED a 45-metre drop goal and very nearly pulled it off spoke volumes of how confident Johnny Sexton was feeling.

The Leinster out-half underlined his enduring quality with a man-of-the-match performance as Leo Cullen’s side advanced into the Heineken Champions Cup final, where they will defend their title against Saracens.

Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty Sexton was man of the match. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

In scorching sunshine at the Aviva Stadium, Sexton steered the ship with composure and prompted Leinster’s best attacking passages with his passing and kicking, as well as slotting five out of six off the tee in an accomplished 65-minute performance. 

With trusted lieutenants like Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy, Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong, Luke McGrath and James Ryan delivering further quality, the eastern province simply had too much for the visiting Toulousains.

James Lowe added to his ever-growing list of impressive finishes with a strong first-half effort, while McGrath dotted down at the back of a maul and Scott Fardy stretched out for a third Leinster try.

Fardy wasn’t even supposed to be starting this game but was drafted into the XV after vice-captain Rhys Ruddock pulled out at a late stage through illness, also meaning a European debut off the bench for 21-year-old Caelan Doris.

Toulouse will have been frustrated to be denied a first-half penalty try for a deliberate knock-on that saw Robbie Henshaw yellow-carded, but otherwise can have few complaints after being well beaten and firmly shut out by Leinster’s strong defence.

The reigning champions will now look to defend their Champions Cup title and secure a record fifth trophy against Mark McCall’s Saracens at St James’ Park in Newcastle on 11 May.

The English side were equally impressive in beating Munster in yesterday’s semi-final and all bodes well for an enthralling decider as Saracens look for their third Champions Cup title. This should be a final to remember. 

James Lowe scores a try despite Rynhardt Elstadt and Thomas Ramos James Lowe dotted down Leinster's first try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Toulouse started the stronger as hooker Peato Mauvaka won a turnover penalty after Antoine Dupont chopped down Sexton, with Cheslin Kolbe’s footwork evident on the subsequent attack and Rynhardt Elstadt sitting James Lowe down with a big carry.

The momentum led to James Ryan not rolling away from a tackle and fullback Thomas Ramos opened the scoring for Toulouse with a sixth-minute penalty.

Leinster levelled through Sexton when Charlie Faumuina failed to roll clear and then Leo Cullen’s side notched the opening try with a superb nine-phase score from a midfield scrum after Ramos kicked his restart dead. 

Luke McGrath looped around Sexton to kickstart it, before strong carrying from the likes of Jack Conan as well as a clever offload from Cian Healy. The ball was swept left and Sean O’Brien wonderfully offloaded out of Richie Gray’s tackle to the unstoppable Lowe, who bumped off Sébastien Bézy and stretched out of Elstadt’s tackle to dot down.

Sexton’s impressive touchline conversion for 10-3 was soon followed by a huge drop-goal effort by the Leinster out-half from around 45 metres out, the excellent kick falling just under the crossbar.

Robbie Henshaw featured prominently in the build-up to Leinster’s second try, finding space in the backfield with a good kick and then blocking down Ramos’ attempted clearance before swarming on the scrambling Toulouse fullback to effect a choke tackle with Devin Toner and Fardy.

Cian Healy celebrates after Luke McGrath scored his sides second try Cian Healy celebrates Leinster's maul try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Gray was yellow-carded in the defensive set from the resulting scrum, needlessly handling the ball in a ruck, with TMO Rowan Kitt showing referee Wayne Barnes the offence and the Englishman promptly binning the Scottish lock. 

Leinster went into the right corner and built a patient maul that burrowed over, scrum-half McGrath the man to dot down at the tail. Sexton converted for 17-3.

Toner dropped the restart, however, and Toulouse very nearly responded with a try as Dupont and Ramos showed their attacking class to bring the visitors poised within a metre of the tryline.

Henshaw followed Gray into the sin bin for then slapping down a pass directed to the trundling Faumuina and was very lucky not to give up a penalty try, with no defenders in front of the heavyweight Toulouse tighthead.

Toulouse opted to kick three points from the penalty, just before Leinster lost hooker Sean Cronin to a worrying ankle injury.

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Sexton missed with a penalty from 35 metres out coming towards half-time, and Leinster briefly thought they had a third try with the clock in the red but Lowe’s second was correctly ruled out for blocking ahead of the ball by Jack Conan on Sofiane Guitoune. 

Seán Cronin leaves the field injured Sean Cronin hobbled off in the first-half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Having held their 17-6 lead into the interval, Leinster saw Toulouse eat into the margin early in the second half as Garry Ringrose put in a high tackle on Dupont and Romas hammered over an excellent 45-metre penalty.

That came just after Fardy had been forced off for an HIA, but the former Wallaby returned in style by scoring a try just after coming back on for temporary replacement Max Deegan.

An excellent Sexton grubber had forced Kolbe to carry the ball into touch in the left corner and, after winning another penalty with their first maul attempt, Leinster hammered at the Toulouse tryline with more punishing carries all the way to the right flank, where Fardy burst through Pita Ahki’s tackle attempt and stretched to dot down. Sexton added another fine conversion for 24-9 in the 55th minute.

Toulouse gamely clawed back at Leinster once again, with replacement fullback Maxime Médard very nearly scoring a beautiful chip-and-chase try only for the intelligent Ringrose to track back and beat him to the bouncing ball in the in-goal area.

The Top 14 outfit had been playing advantage for a Sexton high tackle, however, and again opted to kick the points through replacement Romain Ntamack.  

Scott Fardy scores a try Scott Fardy scores Leinster's third try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But Sexton pushed the lead back out to 15 points with 15 minutes remaining, punishing Elstadt for tackling sub hooker James Tracy off the ball.  

And replacement Ross Byrne put the icing on the cake with a final three-pointer off the tee in the 78th minute as Cullen emptied his bench.

Onwards to Newcastle.

Leinster scorers:

TriesJames Lowe, Luke McGrath, Scott Fardy

ConversionsJohnny Sexton [3 from 3]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [2 from 3], Ross Byrne [1 from 1]

Toulouse scorers:

PenaltiesThomas Ramos [3 from 3], Romain Ntamack [1 from 1]

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (yellow card ’30) (Rory O’Loughlin ’78), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’66), Luke McGrath (Hugh O’Sullivan ’78); Cian Healy (Ed Byrne ’60), Sean Cronin (James Tracy ’34), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent ’66); Devin Toner, James Ryan (Max Deegan ’78); Scott Fardy (HIA – Max Deegan ’42 to ’51), Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan (Caelan Doris ’78).

TOULOUSE: Thomas Ramos (Maxime Médard ’55); Yoann Huget, Sofiane Guitoune, Pita Ahki, Cheslin Kolbe; Antoine Dupont, Sébastien Bézy (Romain Ntamack ’55); Clément Castets (Cyril Baille ’51), Peato Mauvaka (Guillaume Marchand ’62), Charlie Faumuina (Maks Van Dyk ’51); Richie Arnold (Francois Cros ’60), Richie Gray (yellow card ’25); Rynhardt Elstadt, Joe Tekori (Piula Faasalele ’51), Jerome Kaino (captain)  (Selevasio Tolofua ’51).

Referee: Wayne Barnes [England]. 

Attendance: 42,960.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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