Champions Cup: Slick Leinster reach another final as Toulouse implode

Planet Rugby

2PWATDN Leinster's Jason Jenkins scores a try during the Heineken European Champions Cup semi-final match at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Picture date: Saturday April 29, 2023.

Leinster produced another excellent display to secure their place in the 2023 Champions Cup final after they claimed a 41-22 triumph at the Aviva Stadium.

Leo Cullen’s men were once again superb, despite going 7-3 down early on following Pita Ahki’s try for Les Rouge et Noir. The Irish province soon found their rhythm, reducing the arrears through Ross Byrne’s second penalty before they scored three tries in quick succession.

The visitors certainly did not help themselves, however, and Thomas Ramos was the main reason as to why in the first half. The maverick full-back has been in stunning form of late, but he does have a tendency to succumb to the odd brain fade, and his yellow card for a deliberate knock-on opened the door for the hosts.

Jack Conan touched down twice while Ramos was off the pitch before Dan Sheehan scored straight after he returned for a 27-7 advantage.

Emmanuel Meafou crossed the whitewash to give Toulouse hope, and they were still in the game midway through the second period, but Rodrigue Neti’s stupidity effectively ended the match as a contest.

Josh van der Flier should not totally be absolved of blame as he went into a ruck far too high but, in trying to fend the Ireland international off, the prop effectively headbutted the flanker, earning him a yellow card in the process.

With the Frenchmen once again down to 14 men, Leinster benefited as they sealed their place in the Champions Cup showpiece event through Van der Flier and Jason Jenkins, rendering Jack Willis’ late try meaningless.

Click here for teams and scorers

Charlie Ngatai’s daring break from deep led to Ross Byrne’s fourth-minute penalty, but Toulouse hit back with the game’s first try.

A brilliant 50-22 kick from Ramos gave them field position before centre Ahki exploited a three-on-two overlap to score in the left corner.

After a second Byrne penalty, Toulouse suffered a double blow when centre Pierre-Louis Barassi hobbled off, and Ramos saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on.

Conan duly barged over from a Jamison Gibson-Park pass, and the number eight then dummied past Juan Cruz Mallia to complete his brace. Byrne added both conversions for a 20-7 lead.

Jimmy O’Brien was a whisker away from a third try, just losing control of the ball in a tackle from Mallia.

Nonetheless, a blunder at the back of a Toulouse maul – replacement Paul Graou’s pass hit Willis flush in the face – allowed Sheehan to explode over from 25 metres out. Byrne swept over the extras.

Despite losing Antoine Dupont’s influence at half-back in a reshuffled backline, the visitors rallied. Scrum-half Graou sent lock Meafou powering over for Ramos to convert.

At the start of a cagier second half, influential centre Ngatai’s ball-dislodging tackle on Peato Mauvaka helped to repel Toulouse’s early surge.

Although Ramos made it a 10-point game, Toulouse’s momentum was sucked away by replacement prop Neti’s head-led contact with Van der Flier at a ruck, resulting in a yellow card.

A power-packed lineout drive saw Van der Flier score on the hour mark, and Byrne curled over the conversion for a 34-17 advantage.

Leinster’s strong bench helped last season’s runners-up to lift the pace, Luke McGrath giving South African Jenkins a straightforward finish in the 63rd minute.

Fly-half Byrne kicked an impressive conversion to take his tally to 16 points, before English flanker Willis gained some consolation from an 82nd-minute maul.

READ MORE: WATCH: Andrew Porter escapes punishment for ‘tip tackle’ against Toulouse