Brian O'Driscoll and his Leinster side may have sneaked over the line against Clermont Auvergne but the current holders' task of retaining the Heineken Cup will intensify in difficulty with a semi-final trip to three-time champions Toulouse. The French giants emerged victors in the battle against their flashy countrymen with a magnificent second-half performance, resulting in a 29-6 scoreline.
The first of May will be O'Driscoll and co's date of destiny in the cauldron of 'Le Stadium' in Toulouse with the prize of reaching the final in Paris on offer. And on this evidence, Leinster will need to be at their irrepressible best to follow Leicester Tigers as the only back-to-back winners of Europe's most coveted trophy.
Yannick Jauzion, Patricio Albacete and Cédric Heymans scored the tries as Guy Noves' men cut loose in the south of France, but the hosts were made to toil for their success in the spring sunshine. Stade Français, with England flanker James Haskell, produced an early shock by scoring the opening try in the 19th minute.
Scotland full-back Hugo Southwell was held up in the left corner but quick service from half backs Noel Herman Oelschig and Lionel Beauxis found captain Rodrigo Roncero ten metres out. The Argentinian prop attacked Toulouse forward Louis Picamoles with relish and brushed aside the No 8 with consummate ease to score under the posts.
Beauxis converted but the home side responded in the 25th minute when David Skrela booted a close-range penalty. Beauxis added his second successful kick at goal two minutes later to restore Stade's seven-point lead.
Skrela scored his second penalty before the hosts struck a killer blow on the stroke of half-time. France centre Jauzion squeezed under the tackle of Stade scrum-half Oelschig to lift the home support. Skrela added the extras to hand Toulouse a narrow 13-10 interval lead.
A flurry of penalties dominated the early proceedings of the second half as both Beauxis and Skrela added six points each. The latter by the Toulouse No 10 struck the right-hand upright as Noves' men kept their slender advantage intact. Skrela missed the chance to further the home side's lead but, with a partisan crowd roaring them on, they made no mistake on the hour mark to finish the tie.
The classy Jauzion, Byron Kelleher and Clément Poitrenaud combined to free Yoann Maestri on the left flank before Kelleher was involved again as they surged towards the line and Albacete crashed over. Skrela converted and then added another penalty to allow the home supporters to start the celebrations as a Mexican wave quickly followed.
To compound Stade's misery, replacement Simon Taylor of Scotland was shown a yellow card for killing the ball under the posts with nine minutes remaining. Skrela added two penalties to seal an impressive 27-point tally but wing Heymans had the final say with a routine score in the left corner to condemn Stade to a hefty defeat and send alarm bells ringing for the well-oiled Irish province.
Toulouse: Tries Jauzion, Albacete, Heymans; Conversions Skrela 3; Penalties Skrela 7. Stade Français: Try Roncero; Conversion Beauxis; Penalties Beauxis 3.
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (M Medard 67); V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, C Heymans; D Skrela, B Kelleher (Bezy 74); JB Poux (D Human 51), W Servat (V Lacombe 70), B Lecouls (C Johnston 41), R Millo-Chluski (Y Maestri 41), P Albacete, J Bouilhou, L Picamoles (S Sowerby 51), T Dusautoir (capt).
Stade Français: H Southwell (G Messina 58); J Arias, M Bastareaud, M Gasnier, M Bergamasco; L Beauxis, NH Oelschig; R Roncero (capt; R Slimani 64), D Szarzewski (A Marchois 63), S Marconnet, T Palmer, P Pape, A Burban (B Kayser 61), JM Leguizamon, P Rabadan (S Taylor 41).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).
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