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Comfortable Leinster prevail against Toulouse in battle of the Euro heavyweights

By Michael Scully

Leinster have made their first Heineken Champions Cup final since 2019 after seeing off reigning champions Toulouse in today's last four clash at Aviva Stadium.

The Blues remain on course for a record-equalling fifth success - and their first since 2018. Leo Cullen's side will play either Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle or Racing 92 in the final in Marseilles on May 28.

They made it there after recovering from the sucker punch of Antoine Dupont's seventh minute try and the loss of the influential Tadhg Furlong to injury 10 minutes later.

Toulouse had not looked at full tilt in dismissing Ulster and Munster in the previous two rounds and, understandably, did not look at full capacity against Leinster after playing 100 minutes against Munster in Dublin just seven days earlier.

But they were still a dangerous attacking outfit to be dealt with and, Furlong's injury aside, Cullen will be delighted with the intent, cohesion and creativity showed by his side in a battle that pitted a cohort of France's Grand Slam winners against a large number of Ireland's frontliners in front of a big 42,076 attendance.

There was some concern in the last quarter that a second Toulouse try could spark an unlikely winning comeback.

But, fittingly, Hugo Keenan delivered a fourth try for the province in the last minute and Ross Byrne's kick brought up the 40-point mark for the home side.

Leinster had threatened first, with Jimmy O'Brien held up brilliantly just short of the visitor's try line by Matthis Lebel, and Johnny Sexton knocked over a fifth minute penalty as advantage was being played.

Then Dupont struck, but Jamison Gibson-Park had to hold his hand up for the concession.

Keenan took off into space off Furlong's superlative long pass but Gibson-Park, following up, chose the wrong option by trying a grubber kick to the blindside.

Dupont was wise to his scrum-half counterpart, blocked the kick and ran 95 metres and under Leinster's posts for his 16th try in 32 Champions Cup performances. Thomas Ramos added the conversion.

Leinster's Johnny Sexton and Ross Molony celebrate after Josh van der Flier scores their second try (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

The Blues shrugged off the setback and were quickly back in their stride. Leinster's ruck speed was causing Toulouse serious headaches and a try was on when Caelan Doris broke away in midfield off Furlong's pass, but Doris' attempt find Keenan was too hard and high and the full-back knocked on.

Nevertheless Sexton made it a one-point game in the 11th minute when Emmanuel Meafou was too eager to tackle Gibson-Park at a ruck - a running theme as the half progressed - and Sexton knocked over the ensuing penalty.

Another breakdown penalty for Leinster soon followed and this time the skipper kicked to the corner.

The lineout maul was brought down before the Toulouse try line but Robbie Henshaw and Josh van der Flier crashed the ball up close before Sexton's inside pass allowed James Lowe to dive over. Sexton added the extras for a 13-7 lead.

On the debit side, Furlong limped off moments later and was replaced by Michael Ala'alatoa. That didn't stop the hosts from scoring the game's third try in the 20th minute.

This time it was Ross Molony who provided a slingshot pass to Sexton, who had identified space through the Toulouse midfield cover and made ground before whipping the ball to van der Flier.

The hard-carrying flanker was tackled short of the line but tumbled over to ground the ball over the whitewash and Sexton happily tapped over the conversion and Leinster had a 13-point advantage.

That was soon reduced to 10 as, worryingly for the Irish province, they were destroyed in the scrum that resulted from Jack Conan's knock-on from the restart and Ramos scored from a penalty.

Leinster's Johnny Sexton celebrates Josh van der Flier’s try (©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo)

However Sexton restored that advantage when Meafou was once again penalised for illegally firing into Gibson-Park at a ruck, and Rynhardt Elstadt's back-chat saw ref Karl Dickson move the ball forward 10 metres.

The Toulouse prop was made to pay when Meafou repeated the foul in the 37th minute as Leinster attacked with intent and he was sin-binned, though the Blues' attempts to punish their rivals on the scoreboard came to nothing either side of the break.

Leinster were frustrated with that, having made inroads into Toulouse's 22 on a couple of occasions - but then they managed to score their vital third try just moments after the return of the second row.

Molony's line-out turnover in midfield got the move going and Leinster moved from right to left, with Garry Ringrose's chip-kick putting Ramos under pressure before Gibson-Park blocked down Juan Cruz Mallía's kick and Leinster sensed blood, with Sexton's long assist providing Lowe with one of the easiest tries of his prolific career.

Sexton's 52nd minute conversion gave his team a 20-point cushion.

And the contest remained comfortably in their favour until 14 minutes from time, when Toulouse got the lifeline the game needed.

Off a penalty kick to the corner, Toulouse rumbled forward looking for a lineout maul try and it was delivered by substitute winger Selevasio Tolofua, who somehow kept his feet from hitting the touchline before scoring.

Ramos' superb touchline conversion made it a 13 point game and suddenly there was some hope for the champions, although that didn't stop Leinster from calling ashore Sexton, Gibson-Park and Andrew Porter.

Crucially, a big intercept from Romain Ntamack's off-load by Lowe was followed by the winger's booming kick downfield.

Toulouse tried to run it out of defence but under intense pressure, the ball was knocked on and it was enough to quash the visitors' momentum and effectively end their hopes of an historic comeback.

Just to confirm that, Byrne's penalty kick in front of the posts in the 75th minute left Toulouse needing two converted tries and that was beyond even a team of their thrilling ability.

Keenan's converted try just added to injury to insult as far as the Top 14 giants were concerned.

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