Toulouse 35 Leinster 41: Gleeson's graft underpins day of glory for Leinster

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The Independent Online

There is nothing old-fashioned about a British Isles side beating the grandest club team in Europe on their own dungheap in a Heineken Cup knock-out tie; indeed, the Antipodeans and Argentinians and dyed-in-the-wool Dubliners who combine to make Leinster such a sight to behold ventured into virgin territory by achieving as much in one of the half-dozen most mesmerising contests in the competition's 11-year history. Yet at the heart of their victory lay a set of traditional virtues that might be defined as the "three Bs": balls, belligerence and bloody-mindedness.

Each of these qualities were to be found, in perfect proportion, in the performance of Keith Gleeson, long forgotten as an open-side flanker of international calibre but certain to be remembered by the defeated champions as long as they continue to draw breath. Felipe Contepomi, the Leinster outside-half, received the gongs and glittering prizes, and with good reason, for his was a contribution rich in attacking brilliance. But when the fires were at their most molten, it was Gleeson, an expatriate Australian hovering on the wrong side of 30, who made the difference.

Gleeson found himself matched with Yannick Nyanga, the new hot young thing of Tricolore rugby. It is true to say that the Leinster man is not, and never has been, the player Nyanga threatens to be. He cannot run as fast, or explode into space with such destructive intent, or give and take a pass with such certainty of touch. He is neither as athletic, nor as gifted. Yet Gleeson performed all the unpleasant, grubby little tasks that a prodigy of Nyanga's stamp inevitably considers beneath him, and performed them to such effect that by the time Toulouse got close to subduing him, they were 20 points adrift and out of the tournament.

Nyanga was wonderful with ball in hand - come next year's World Cup, he could be up there with Daniel Carter and Luke McCalister as the player everyone wants to watch - but Gleeson was even better with nothing but fresh air blowing through his fingers. He tackled, he scavenged, he hassled, he threatened, he frustrated, he infuriated.

The Toulouse forwards scarcely knew what day it was, such were the problems he caused them. As Michael Cheika, the Leinster coach and master linguist, said afterwards in umpteen different tongues: "Keith is a hunter, and a hungry one." Cheika's opposite number, the combustible yet generous Guy Noves, put it every bit as graphically. "Today, we met a mountain. We tried to climb it, but it was insurmountable." In Himalayan terms, Gleeson was the Hillary Step and the final ridge of K2 rolled into one. Nyanga scored a try in injury time, the first of two by the Frenchmen by way of consolation. Did the men of Leinster care? Did they hell.

Ireland now possess four specialist open-sides - David Wallace, Johnny O'Connor, Shane Jennings and Gleeson - for whom England, badly in need of a genuine breakaway, would happily kill. Argentina, meanwhile, have a stand-off capable of winning a match in the grand manner.

Contepomi was up against some fairly useful midfielders on Saturday, and if Frédéric Michalak had one of those days, Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz were very much on their games. They could do nothing to deflect the Trinity College medical student from his purpose, however. Everything Contepomi did had a touch of alchemy about it. He was at the heart of Leinster's opening statement, a set-play try straight off the training field in which he handled twice in opening a route to the posts for Brian O'Driscoll.

Toulouse, restricted to a barrage of penalty goals from the otherwise out-of-synch scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, had played their way back to within a point at 18-19 when Michalak, under extreme pressure from Gleeson, threw a pass straight to Cameron Jowitt, who lolloped over unopposed. The score all but broke the champions. Within minutes, Contepomi unleashed Denis Hickie down the left for another five-pointer and Shane Horgan wrapped it up by putting himself on the end of another of Cheika's cleverly plotted raids from first-phase possession.

At the final whistle, the Toulouse crowd - true rugby aficionados, raised on la virtuosité, la grâce, la beauté - rewarded Leinster with a standing ovation. They knew what they had seen, and appreciated it fully. This was champagne rugby, with grit in the bottom of the bottle. The grit was put there by Keith Gleeson.

Toulouse: Tries Nyanga, Jauzion; Conversions Elissalde 2; Penalties Elissalde 6; Drop goal Michalak. Leinster: Tries O'Driscoll, Jowitt, Hickie, Horgan; Conversions Contepomi 3; Penalties Contepomi 5.

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (M Medard, 80); V Clerc, F Fritz (M Kunavore, 76), Y Jauzion, C Heymans; F Michalak (J-F Dubois, 72), J-B Elissalde; J-B Poux (G Menkarska, 75), Y Bru (capt; V Lacombe, 78), O Hasan, F Pelous, T Brennan (R Millo-Chluski, 50), J Bouilhou (G Lamboley, 67), Y Nyanga, F Maka.

Leinster: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt; K Lewis 80), G D'Arcy (R Kearney, 80), D Hickie; F Contepomi (Kearney, 60-62), G Easterby; R Corrigan (R McCormack, 55), B Blaney, W Green, B Williams, M O'Kelly, C Jowitt (E Miller, 67), K Gleeson, J Heaslip.

Referee: D Pearson (England).

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