Now only Wasps stand in the way of Leinster
LEINSTER reclaimed top spot in Pool 1 as second-half tries from Dave Kearney, Sean Cronin and Adam Byrne put Leo Cullen’s side on the verge of the quarter-finals.
With one round remaining the defending champions now lead Toulouse by three points, and an away win against Wasps next Sunday should earn them a home quarterfinal.
Cheslin Kolbe ran in a brilliant, late consolation for Toulouse, but their strong defensive efforts in the first-half faltered after the break.
With nine Irish internationals missing from their starting team due to injury, Leinster held some concerns ahead of this key encounter, and with Toulouse clearly more interested than many previous travelling French teams this was an evenly balanced clash for almost an hour.
When Charlie Faumuina tackled Jack Conan without the ball, Ross Byrne got Leinster off the mark, but there was a clear difference in size between the two packs as Joe Tekori and Jerome Kaino caught the eye in defence for Toulouse, and they did well to maintain their intensity levels as the half wore on.
A huge shove from Faumuina on a Leinster scrum earned Toulouse a penalty, which was kicked easily by Thomas Ramos to level the scores after 13 minutes. What followed was five minutes of total Leinster dominance, but Toulouse ended the 38 phases on defence the happier side as a brilliant steal on the ground from captain Julien Marchand denied Leinster.
A couple more attacks saw Leinster leave without reward, but the pressure finally told five minutes from the interval. Luke McGrath had been held up over the line, and from the resulting scrum Adam Byrne came close, but Conan barged over, while Ross Byrne converted from the right for a 10-3 lead.
Facing such a strong wind in the first half Leinster would have been happy with that cushion, but with time elapsed, Rory O’Loughlin played the ball on the ground, which allowed Ramos to make it 10-6 at half-time.
Playing into the wind presented the big Toulouse pack with a stern challenge and before the 50th minute they tired rapidly, as the chilly Dublin air was sucked greedily.
On the other side of the ball the Leinster pack were keen for carries, especially Cronin, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock and Conan, and they laid the groundwork for their second try. It was Ross Byrne’s crossfield kick that set Toulouse into reverse, but Dave Kearney’s finish in the corner was sublime.
The brilliant Cronin almost conjured a third try when he linked with Conan on a trick lineout play but Antoine Dupont did well to read the play. But five minutes later the hooker was on hand to score from a few inches, which wrapped up the win.
The introduction on Sebastian Bezy at scrumhalf resulted in a reshuffled Toulouse backline and he brought real zip to their play, but Leinster’s defence stood firm and after Jamison Gibson-Park’s quick tap penalty Adam Byrne wrapped up the bonus point with their fourth try four minutes from time.
Balance: Dave Kearney collects a pass and goes on to touch down for Leinster’s second try
Shouting match: Adam Byrne celebrates after scoring Leinster’s fourth try