Leinster v Toulouse: Five takeaways from Champions Cup final as ‘superhuman’ Antoine Dupont stars

James While
Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont celebrates Champions Cup win.

Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont celebrates Champions Cup win.

Following a 31-22 victory for Toulouse over Leinster in the Investec Champions Cup final, here’s our takeaways from the clash at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Six star rugby

This was a game for the ages, as once again the Champions Cup delivered a match of absolute incredible physicality and passion, one that saw 14-man Toulouse defeat Leinster after extra-time courtesy of a Matthis Lebel try to take their record sixth Champions Cup victory.

The match resembled a scene from MASH towards the end of the game as the titanic breakdown battle took its toll with eight players leaving the pitch with various injuries and ailments. It was a win based upon a brilliant suffocating defence from Toulouse, far more abrasive and challenging on the blitz than we’ve seen from them so far this season, and an absolute masterclass from Antoine Dupont and the Toulouse back-row who managed an incredible 19 turnovers between them.

With Blair Kinghorn and Thomas Ramos nailing eight penalties and a conversion between them, accuracy off the tee was a key part of the French side’s win, with Leinster missing two goal kicks and two attempts at the drop goal, any of which would have changed the course of the match.

Toulouse’s win consigns Leinster to their third consecutive final defeat in the Champions Cup, an unwanted record but one that will weigh particularly heavy on their shoulders, considering their expectation before this game.

For those lucky enough to have made the journey to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to witness this Test-standard spectacle, they can walk away happy in the knowledge they’ve seen one of the greatest European finals, continuing the fine margin dramas of 2022 and 2023 that thrilled so many, and one brilliantly refereed by the outstanding Matthew Carley, a man who barely made an error all match in a quite wonderful display of officiating.

Antoine Dupont

Remarkable. Superhuman. Exquisite. Mindblowing.

You really run out of words when describing the mercurial Toulouse scrum-half.

This was his game, one where he placed his mark in every facet of the game. The stats are remarkable – FOUR jackal turnovers, three on his own line as the French superstar literally held Leinster’s attack up on his own. Two 50:22s, one from a bullet of a clearing kick that needed to be seen to be believed, and 54 metres made with ball in hand combined to deliver a personal performance that was close on perfection. One of his turnovers, in the 73rd minute, almost certainly prevented a Toulouse loss as Leinster were camped on the line and only three points behind.

Toulouse win extra-time thriller against Leinster to claim SIXTH Champions Cup title

Before the match, the battle between Jamison Gibson-Park and Dupont was identified as the key match-up and, whilst nobody would claim Gibson-Park was poor, his opponent produced one of the performances of his career, right when it mattered and thereafter, especially when Richie Arnold was sent off for a head contact with Cian Healy.

The breakdown contest was remarkable – absolutely brutal at times – but what was even more remarkable was the fact that a 5’8″ scrum-half dominated the ruck contest, demonstrating the complete rugby talent of the amazing Dupont.

Toulouse back-row

Before the match, Planet Rugby columnist Paul Gustard described just how dangerous Toulouse are at targeting the carrier post tackle in their jackal effort and his words could not have been more prophetic as the Top 14 side snared a record 19 ruck turnovers across normal and extra-time, a quite remarkable statistic. For all of Leinster’s power and ambition, the Toulouse defensive effort was one of supreme accuracy and timing, the single difference between these two gladiatorial sides.

Alongside the ruck goblin Dupont, Jack Willis, Alexandre Roumat and Francois Cros, aided and abetted by Emmanuel Meafou, each had a game of monumental proportions. In any sane game of rugby, 30 tackles according to EPCR (although TNT Sports believe there were a few more), three turnovers and eight carries would surely win you the Player of the Match award, but Willis will look back at those quite remarkable personal stats with immense pride – he was magnificent and hugely influential for the whole 100 minutes of play.

Alongside him, the emerging talent of Roumat also impressed, a supreme athlete who was Toulouse’s banker in the lineout and restart structure and he, like Willis put in a massive shift in carry and clatter, making 19 tackles and stealing two of the pressured Leinster lineout throws.

And of course, next to Roumat and Willis was the indefatigable Cros, arguably the most consistent player in Europe this season, who made one tackle on Caelan Doris that simply vaporised the Leinster eight as he once again defined the term perpetual motion.

Toulouse may not have played the running game we are used to seeing, but rugby is won in the breakdown battle and, despite coming second at scrum-time, despite lacking a cutting edge in the three-quarters and midfield, they absolutely monstered Leinster at the breakdown and that was the foundation their memorable win was built upon.

Marginal moments

There were so many micro battles and so many magical moments in this epic encounter. The manner Leinster targeted Romain Ntamack and Ramos once Blair Kinghorn had moved to centre was rugby intelligence of the highest order (something that perhaps they needed to have shown more of in other facets of play). The Jordan Larmour tackle on Lebel that saved a certain try was absolutely breathtaking, whilst Meafou’s carry and offload in the first half was a brilliant piece of skill from an enormous man.

Eventually, the Toulouse try came from targeting the narrowness of the Leinster defence as Planet Rugby suggested last week. With James Lowe off the pitch and Leinster down to 14, and with Ciaran Frawley down with an injury, Ntamack and Dupont targeted the Leinster 13, where Robbie Henshaw was defending two positions and with one brilliant miss pass, Lebel was sent on his way to become a champion.

Toulouse player ratings: Antoine Dupont and Jack Willis produce all-time displays to fire French giants to sixth title

Leinster had their chances; their scrummage won five penalties as Dan Sheehan put in a world class performance both in the tight and around the park, but for some reason the close quarter handling and 1-3-3-1 attacking pods that normally define their game went missing, yet again under the pressure of impending silverware.

Leinster might also rue their selection policy; Will Connors and Ryan Baird were simply eviscerated by Willis and Cros for 45 minutes and it wasn’t until Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan, two world-class back-rowers came trotting on, that Leinster started to win some of the collision contests.

Leinster pressured

It’s hard not to look at this match and remember the previous two Champions Cup finals and Ireland’s showing in the World Cup and not wonder about the temperament of some of the Leinster players under extreme pressure, as they crumbled once again when it came to the big prize.

Toulouse surprised them on Saturday by changing their ruck and defence dynamic into a much more abrasive and aggressive system, one that caught the Irishmen off guard in terms of its intensity. However, when you examine the match objectively rather than emotionally, Leinster really struggled to get go forward and shape from their anonymous midfield, lacking focused tactics to drive Leinster into positions where they could really hurt Toulouse.

Given the Leinster scrum superiority and their ability to carry close around the breakdown, their propensity to handle the ball in the middle third of the pitch, a tactic that cost them nine points through three penalties, was beyond foolhardy. There seems to be too much of a focus on set planning and training ground plays within the Leinster game plan and once again, they simply failed to react to the manner the game in which the game was changing in front of them.

This will be the hardest loss of the last three; one where they had Toulouse down to 14 men, with a rearranged backline and no recognised second-rows on the pitch, and they simply failed on both an emotional and intellectual level.

READ MORE: Leinster player ratings: All-Ireland front-row dominate as Jamison Gibson-Park shows his class but it ends in heartbreak