O'Driscoll and Heaslip take Leinster to final
Leinster 32 Toulouse 23: Dubliners rejoice as European odyssey continues with defeat of French giants
Sunday 01 May 2011
Some have taken to referring to the rebuilt Lansdowne Road as the "palindrome", rather than name-checking the sponsor. A fans' banner making reference to the Dublin postcode has rebranded "the Aviva" as the "D4tress". Whatever, this concrete beanbag of a stadium – plumped up at one end, strangely squashed at the other – may only have been open a few months but it has claimed a stream of notable victims: England's Grand Slam, Leicester's Heineken Cup challenge and now France's four-time European champions and cup-holders, Toulouse, in a seesaw semi-final.
What a list, and what a noise in the final five minutes, when 50,000 voices roared Leinster to a deserved victory. The supporters of the 2009 champions, who had lost their title away to Toulouse in last season's last four, roared "forward" at a pass by Yannick Jauzion and the din rose to deafening as Johnson Falefa knocked on for the French and Sean O'Brien and Richardt Strauss dived on the loose ball. Those two – Leinster's finds of the season at flanker and hooker – were shaded by a team-mate, the try-scoring No 8 Jamie Heaslip, as man of the match. Heaslip had put in a world-beating shift.
Leinster have not lost to French opposition in Ireland in 11 matches since 2003, and though they will not have home advantage in the Cardiff final on 21 May, they must be favourites to beat the winners of today's meeting of Northampton and Perpignan.
Perhaps one of those sides will fancy their scrum, but yesterday Leinster's front five gradually got on top of Toulouse and that was a tribute to the Irish-South African personnel and the coaching team led by Joe Schmidt, a New Zealander in his first year as a head coach. And, of course, there was Brian O'Driscoll. The maestro centre had an up-and-down match. He was sent to the sin-bin four minutes before half-time, for slapping the ball from Vincent Clerc in an offside position, and he was culpable, wittingly and unwittingly, in Toulouse's first try.
Later, he scored one of his own. David Skrela's penalty for the sin-bin offence made it 13-13; it was 22-20 to Leinster in the 59th minute when O'Driscoll struck. More capable defenders than Clerc and Cencus Johnston have been confounded by him in the past; the wing and the prop did not have a prayer as O'Driscoll ducked and darted between them. It was the finish to multiple phases and as Guy Noves, the Toulouse coach, admitted, it was Leinster's brilliant rucking that did for his men.
O'Driscoll said, modestly: "If we play like that again we won't win the final." But there were plenty willing to argue with him in his home city last night. A blustery wind was commanded by Jonathan Sexton, who collected 22 points with eight kicks out of eight. Sexton, who was injured for the Toulouse loss a year ago, did not play his sexiest rugby but Leinster tested the contentiously selectedClément Poitrenaud in the centres, with Isa Nacewa from full-back takingthe inside line off O'Driscoll.
Toulouse led 7-0 when O'Driscoll was penalised for not allowing the tackled player to play and then watched helplessly as the ball from Skrela's kick bounced off the post, down and back over his head, straight to Florian Fritz. The conversion by Skrela was followed by two penalties from Sexton either side of a Skrela drop-goal. Leinster's first try, on 30 minutes, was started and finished by Heaslip, taking Leo Cullen's line-out tap and – after one brilliant tackle by Yannick Nyanga – reaching through a forest of arms to score.
A brainless penalty conceded by Patricio Albacete, against 14 men, allowed Sexton to make it 16-13 to Leinster at half-time. The one-man shortage made no difference in Toulouse's second try, three minutes into the second half, but some rank gamesmanship did. Louis Picamoles, the No 8, peeled round Jean-Marc Doussain off a scrum to score, but O'Brien was blocked by Nyanga. The latter got a slap and was replaced by Thierry Dusautoir, but the try stood and Skrela converted.
The rugby grew ever more breathless – "The two teams gave their all, even to the point of exhaustion," said Noves – and a penalty by Sexton and a remarkable run by the prop Cian Healy lifted Leinster. Heinke van der Merwe's first act, on for Healy, was to help shove Toulouse back and up on their put-in, in their 22. Sexton's kick had his side 22-20 up.
The O'Driscoll try gave Leinster a cushion and they then absorbed tremendous waves of attack. Nicolas Bezy, on for Skrela, kicked a mighty penalty from a couple of metres inside halfway, but Sexton's pumping arms as he watched his sixth and final penalty sail over signposted Leinster's impressive passage.
Leinster I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald (F McFadden, 56-69); J Sexton, E Reddan (I Boss, 53); C Healy (H van der Merwe, 53), R Strauss, M Ross (S Wright, 73), L Cullen (capt), N Hines, K McLaughlin (S Jennings, 53), J Heaslip, S O'Brien.
Toulouse C Heymans; V Clerc, F Fritz (Y Jauzion, 60), C Poitrenaud, M Médard; D Skrela (N Bezy, 67), JM Doussain; JB Poux (D Human, 45), W Servat (V Lacombe, 77), C Johnston (J Falefa,67), Y Maestri (G Lamboley, 60), P Albacete, J Bouilhou (capt), L Picamoles (S Sowerby, 64), Y Nyanga (T Dusautoir, 45).
Referee D Pearson (England).
Tries: Heaslip, O'Driscoll
Cons: Sexton 2
Pens: Sexton 6
Tries: Fritz, Picamoles
Cons: Skrela 2
Pens: Skrela, Bezy
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