Now only Wasps stand in the way of Le­in­ster

The Rugby Paper - - European Champions Cup - By RO­NAN O’BRIEN

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

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