James Lowe at the double in Leinster’s Champions Cup demolition of Toulouse

Penalty joy for Toulouse in Dublin last week but little more than punishment seven days on. Leinster produced one of the most emphatic performances in recent European history to sink the defending champions Toulouse and reach a sixth final. It was every bit as dominant as the scoreline suggests and while the Aviva Stadium was a sea of blue, having been painted Munster red seven days ago, it might as well have been green. For Leinster are a Test side in all but name.

Indeed, Leinster lined up with 13 Ireland internationals in their starting lineup and the same number of players in their squad who featured against France in Paris earlier this year. Toulouse do not exactly lack Test players themselves but for all their counterattacking threats, their star man at scrum-half in Antoine Dupont, they simply could not live with Leinster’s power and poise.

Leinster scored four tries, two coming from James Lowe who is now just one behind Chris Ashton’s season record of 11. They were destructive at the breakdown, swarming with the intent that the recent champions sides of Saracens used to, and with Josh van der Flier further enhancing his reputation as one of the finest opensides around. But above all else there was a slickness to Leinster’s play that Toulouse could not handle.

Johnny Sexton enjoyed the kind of afternoon a fly-half of his calibre should with his side enjoying so much quick ball. Indeed, whether it be flat passes to the oncoming Garry Ringrose or pinpoint crossfield kicks to his back three, his was a supreme showing. It was the sort of performance that will resonate all the way to Lens, where Racing 92 face La Rochelle on Sunday for the right to face Leinster in the final later this month.

It remains to be seen whether Tadhg Furlong will be fit for that match, the Ireland tighthead prop limping off after 17 minutes having already demonstrated his delightful dexterity with some lovely short passes and a spectacular long-range ball to Hugo Keenan on the left. Keenan darted his way into the Toulouse 22 but Jamison Gibson-Park’s grubber was seized upon by Dupont, who found himself with a clear run to the try-line. If it was a reminder of the dangers Toulouse pose, it was also a wake-up call for Leinster, who responded with tries from Lowe and Van der Flier before half-time as well as two more Sexton penalties after he had opened the scoring from the tee.

Furlong’s departure did give Toulouse the ascendancy at the scrum and with it a foothold but they were unable to add to the scoreboard beyond a Tomas Ramos penalty. Dupont flickered in glimpses but a prolonged period before half-time in which they went through phase after phase around halfway before a wayward pass, which went straight into touch, summed up their opening half. Emmanuel Meafou was in the sin-bin by this stage, his frustration evidently getting the better of him.

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Toulouse’s luck continued to be out after the restart – Jack Conan was fortunate to escape a yellow card for a trip on Romain Ntamack but if the French side will feel they did not get their share of the decisions from the referee Karl Dickson they would have to accept that was not the reason why they lost.

Lowe’s second try came with half an hour still to play – a walkover effort after Sexton’s long pass – and while Toulouse responded with a close-range try from a driving maul through Selevasio Tolofua the game, in truth, was long since up for the French side, whose handling let them down too many times throughout. Ross Byrne’s penalty with five minutes to go was a show of respect for the champions, taking the gap beyond 14 points, but Keenan’s late try – just desserts for his performances – put the exclamation point on Leinster’s dominance.

The Guardian

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