Leinster surge into Heineken final
April 30, 2011
Brian O'Driscoll scored Leinster's second try
© Getty Images
Leinster produced a performance of rare quality to defeat Toulouse 32-23 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday and book their second Heineken Cup final appearance in three seasons.
Dumped out by Guy Noves' French giants at the same stage last season, Leinster were aware of the size of the challenge and met it head on with their irrepressible pack's pace and power proving decisive in the latter stages.
No.8 Jamie Heaslip and centre Brian O'Driscoll scored tries for the Irish province, while Jonny Sexton continued to blossom at elite level with 22 points from the tee. Florian Fritz and Louis Picamoles crossed for the deposed champions, who brought their best only in patches and failed to turn an early advantage into a commanding lead.
Leinster endured a nightmare opening, losing two lineouts inside the first minute and coughing up a free kick at the first scrum. Worse was to come however as a cruel bounce of the ball presented the opening try to the visitors. A penalty attempt by David Skrela clipped an upright, with the ball cannoning over the head of O'Driscoll and into the arms of Fritz, who made no mistake.
With the conversion added, Toulouse looked for more but were hit by a riposte from the hosts, who secured lineout ball and a penalty after Gordon D'Arcy had smashed through Skrela and generated some momentum. Sexton kicked the three points to make it 7-3 after 10 minutes, slotting a second penalty four minutes later to bookend a canny drop-goal by Skrela.
Leinster attempted to bring their strike runners and back-row into the game but with their lineout struggling they were unable to safeguard possession until just before the half-hour mark, when they secured some worthwhile territory to complement their ambition. Heaslip and Leo Cullen were conspicuous in carrying the ball hard at some aggressive defence and after Sexton had juggled and made a couple of vital yards, Heaslip popped up again to reach out and score.
The conversion gave Leinster a three-point cushion but the Irish side were made to endure a rollercoaster end to the half. They lost O'Driscoll to the sin-bin after the Ireland skipper ended a smart break from Vincent Clerc by snaffling the ball from an offside position, with Skrela levelling the scores. They found a riposte before half-time however, with Sexton's third penalty punishing a moment of madness from Patricio Albacete, who could not resist a nibble at scrum-half Eoin Reddan.
Toulouse began the second-half with a demonstration of both skill and power. A majestic run and grubber by Cedric Heymans almost resulted in a try to Clerc and the French giants used the platform created to bag their second try and with it the lead. Their scrum did the damage and from the base Jean-Marc Doussain collected the ball, ran over Reddan and fed Picamoles for the easiest of finishes.
Skrela opened up a four-point lead with the conversion but again Leinster were able to take a bite out of it when Sexton added his fourth penalty, slotted as O'Driscoll trotted back onto the field.
Both sides then had grandstand breaks to savour, Toulouse from the influential Heymans and Leinster from prop Cian Healy, but it was in the tight that the next blow would be struck. Healy was replaced by South African Heinke van der Merwe, who got underneath Cencus Johnston at the scrum to win a penalty, which was coolly landed by Sexton.
Leinster had the wind in their sails and after some death-defying fetching from hooker Richardt Strauss, they struck again. In similar fashion to their first-half try they tied up the Toulouse forwards with a series of close-range charges, replacement scrum-half Isaac Boss then opting to whip the ball away from contact and into the arms of O'Driscoll, who couldn't miss.
A rare mistake from Isa Nacewa, who knocked on a Clerc kick on his 22, gave Toulouse a glimpse of the line but again Leinster slammed the door. Under huge pressure the fullback atoned for his error with a one-on-one tackle to halt the charging Gregory Lamboley and Heaslip steamed in to complete the turnover.
A stunning 50 metre penalty from Nicolas Bezy, off the bench to replace Skrela, quietened the home crowd but a break of the ball, from a Strauss offload, then had Toulouse penalised for offside with seconds remaining. Sexton stepped up and made sure.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton