Toulouse power into Paris finale
May 1, 2010
Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll is tackled by Toulouse's Yannick Jauzion during their Heineken Cup semi-final clash at the Stade Municipal
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Toulouse booked their sixth Heineken Cup Final appearance with an impressive 26-16 victory over defending champions Leinster at the Stade Municipal.
Fly-half David Skrela orchestrated a powerful and disciplined performance and crossed for the pivotal try on the hour mark as Toulouse kept their dreams of a fourth European crown very much alive with the winner of Biarritz's clash with Munster on Sunday set to provide the opposition at the Stade de France on May 22. Man of the match Skrela finished with a personal tally of 21 points, including the conversion for centre Yannick Jauzion's second half try that broke the back of a brave Leinster side determined not to relinquish their crown. A try from No.8 Jamie Heaslip offered the large travelling support hope of a late turnaround but Toulouse were not to be denied the chance taste Heineken Cup Final glory on home soil for the first time.
Steady rain greeted the sides onto the field and unsurprisingly the both sides put boot to ball in the opening moments. But Toulouse soon reverted to type and with a crisp passing game they drew the first penalty of the game with Leinster's eagerness getting the better of them at the breakdown. And Skrela made them pay with an excellent kick from the touchline to the delight of the capacity crowd.
Leinster rallied with a good spell of pressure and Berne continued with the aerial assault but they got little change out of Toulouse and the hosts were quick to turn defence into attack with a thumping tackle from winger Vincent Clerc on Leinster fullback Rob Kearney drawing further praise. Leinster were not deterred with centre Brian O'Driscoll causing concern in the Toulouse 22 before a knock on gifted possession back to the hosts. A powerful scrum then shunted Leinster out of the danger zone and scrum-half Byron Kelleher cleared his lines.
The Toulouse pack were soon causing more damage at the other end of the field and the drive drew another penalty that Skrela duly slotted to double his side's lead. Berne continued to pepper the Toulouse back three but a late hit from Leinster prop Stan Wright allowed Toulouse to relieve the pressure. However, a rare error from No.8 Shaun Sowerby, who kicked the ball dead in-goal, handed Leinster another great field position and it was no surprise to see Berne opt for the boot, this time a cross kick. Space was a premium for the visitors but they recycled the ball and worked it wide where scrum-half Eoin Reddan wriggled free only to lose the ball under pressure from Clerc as he stretched to score.
The Toulouse pack continued to dominate their Leinster counterparts and another impressive scrum ended in another Skrela penalty with the visitors happy to pull the drive down rather than concede a territorial and psychological advantage. Springbok CJ van der Linde was immediately drafted into the Leinster front row is a bid to shore things up. A body-check from Kelleher on an on-rushing Kearney offered Leinster an immediate chance to respond and Berne's kick from straight in front sailed over to put the Irish side on the board. But another penalty against Leinster drew the wrath of referee Nigel Owens who demanded improvement from skipper Leo Cullen as Skrela lined up another shot at goal - with his latest effort sailing wide of the posts.
Toulouse ended the half on the front foot but were guilty of being too speculative and some determined tackling from Leinster drew a penalty that allowed Berne the chance to reduce the arrears with the last kick of the half.
Toulouse came out flying after the break with fullback Clement Poitrenaud putting Maxime Medard, a replacement for Heymans, into space before the winger launched a kick and chase down the touchline. The French international beat Reddan to the ball but was unable to ground it before sliding into touch in-goal. Kelleher was then penalised for not releasing Berne after a crunching tackle and the thumping boot of Kearney slotted the kick from the half-way line to bring his side level once again. The Toulouse pack led the fightback and another scrum penalty against Leinster handed Skrela the opportunity to restore his side's lead but again he was off-target.
Leinster were handed a final warning from Owens moments later for their latest infringement while Skrela opted this time to kick to the corner for the lineout. The following lineout move had Leinster stretched deep inside their own 22 but a forward pass handed the ball back to the visitors for the scrum. A consolidated effort secured the ball at the set-piece under pressure from a hungry Toulouse pack before the ball was cleared. They were soon under the cosh again with Clerc snagged as he closed in on the line but the ball was recycled and Jauzion powered through the tackle of Cullen and Berne down the shortside for the game's first try. Skrela rediscovered his touch with the conversion as a roar of relief rang around the stadium.
With renewed vigour, Toulouse pressed forward again looking for the killer blow and they took a giant step towards the Paris finale with the second try of the game. Skrela collected the ball on the Leinster 22 before stepping the rush defence and coasting in for the score before adding the simple conversion.
Forced to chase the game, Leinster moved the ball with purpose and a chip ahead from O'Driscoll put Gordon D'Arcy into space and although he was hauled down just short the ball was worked wide to Heaslip who took an excellent pass from winger Isa Nacewa before sliding over for a try in the corner. Faced with a difficult touchline conversion, Berne nailed the kick to keep Leinster's title defence alive.
In an increasingly open game, Reddan was then forced to scramble the ball into touch inside his own 22 and from the resulting lineout Toulouse opted for power again and that pressure at scrum time drew the inevitable penalty. Skrela's successful kick crucially took his side beyond a converted score.
Toulouse then felt comfortable enough to withdraw Skrela in favour of Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and the replacement No.10 was wide with a drop goal attempt as the game drew to a close. Leinster battled bravely to the final whistle but there was to be no let-up from Toulouse who powered into yet another Heineken Cup Final in some style.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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