Agony again for Leinster as Toulouse claim their 6th Champions Cup crown

Leinster 22

Toulouse 31

THE LAST TWO have been heartbreaking but this one might hurt most of all.

For the third year in a row, Leinster have lost the Champions Cup final. They cleared their La Rochelle hoodoo to get to this decider but Toulouse will haunt them now.

It took extra time to decide it on this remarkable occasion in London but it’s still so painful for Leo Cullen’s men and their supporters.

Toulouse won it, that should be stressed. They defended with incredible resilience and then started extra time at high speed as they took full advantage of a yellow card for James Lowe.

A red card for Toulouse lock Richie Arnold then meant there was brief hope for Leinster but Toulouse finished extra time well too as Thomas Ramos’ place-kicking guided them home.

The sublime Antoine Dupont was hugely influential at scrum-half yet again, winning turnovers, kicking 50:22s and challenging the defence every time he was in possession. Blair Kinghorn, Jack Willis, and Romain Ntamack were among the standouts too. The French club are deserved winners, moving two titles clear of Leinster on six.

But Leinster will have regrets. They had more than enough possession and territory in regular time to win this. Time after time, they left the Toulouse 22 empty-handed through a combination of handling errors, breakdown turnovers, questionable decisions, and that brilliant Toulousain defence.

agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

The margins were fine as always in these high-level finals but in the cold light of day, Leinster will surely feel that they had enough opportunity to take themselves out of that zone. They simply couldn’t convert in attack. And yet, they nearly won it in the last minute of regular time when Ciarán Frawley’s drop goal effort was just wide.

Leinster played a huge part in the final of all finals. There was a scarcely believable amount of drama at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 100 minutes of rugby that involved no lulls whatsoever. This was breathless stuff.

Extra time was needed because a sensational 80 minutes of regular time couldn’t separate these two sides. Though there were no tries in the 15-15 scoreline, the crowd of 61,531 were treated to a thrill a minute before it continued in extra time.

There were monstrous hits, incredible try-saving tackles, a ferocious set-piece contest, and no shortage of nerve-wracking moments, even if Leinster had more than enough chances to have won the game.

They couldn’t convert their repeated visits into the Toulouse 22 into a try and while there were Leinster errors involved too often, the French side also deserve huge credit for that immense defence.

Leinster had some big performances from the likes of Caelan Doris, Dan Sheehan, and Andrew Porter but it wasn’t to be for the third consecutive time.

Extra time proved to be beyond Leinster and Toulouse earned the win. For Cullen and Jacques Nienaber’s side, it’s on to try to win the URC title but their agonising wait for a Champions Cup crown continues. Six years and counting.

agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

A relentlessly thrilling and chaotic first half began as it intended to continue, with Jamison Gibson-Park required to make a brilliant try-saving tackle on Dupont in just the second minute.

Juan Cruz Mallía had grubbered down the right after an Emmanuel Meafou offload and Dupont regathered before offloading back inside for Mallía to dot down but the TMO review showed Gibson-Park had just managed to get Dupont into touch before he hung the ball up.

Toulouse did get the lead two minutes later when Jamie Osborne was rather harshly pinged for not rolling away from a tackle on opposite number Pita Ahki, allowing Kinghorn to stroke over a penalty from just inside his own half.

Osborne was the man penalised before Kinghorn’s second successful shot in the eight-minute too, Meafou counter-rucking superbly and referee Matthew Carley calling up the Leinster centre for holding onto the ball on the ground. Toulouse were 6-0 to the good.

The Irish province had a chance straight from the restart as Ahki let the ball bounce and Jason Jenkins reeled it in, but Joe McCarthy forced an offload that Hugo Keenan couldn’t hold onto and the ball went forward.

That set a frustrating theme for Leinster as a string of promising positions and possessions ended without reward. Soon after, their five-metre maul effort was stopped and they rather unusually tried to go wide without a penalty advantage, Henshaw’s pullback pass to Ross Byrne going to ground.

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agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

The next chance saw Byrne cross-kick brilliantly for hooker Dan Sheehan out on the left and he claimed on the bounce before offloading inside, only for Alexandre Roumat to get a hand to the ball before it found Lowe.

Jenkins was stripped of the ball by Romain Ntamack on the next Leinster visit to the 22 and they finally opted for a shot at goal in the 17th minute after Dorian Aldegheri stole the ball while off his feet. Byrne was on target for a 6-3 scoreline.

The physicality was intense in a breathless contest, with François Cros landing one monster hit on Caelan Doris, while Ahki was forced off injured in the second quarter.

Ntamack proved his defensive quality again in the 24th minute with a jackal turnover after yet another promising Leinster attack started with a Henshaw half-break, while McCarthy demonstrated his spoiling quality with a maul turnover just after.

Toulouse went close with a counter-attack sparked by Thibaud Flament’s lineout steal nearing the half-hour mark, Osborne making an excellent tackle on Paul Costes after some stunning handling from the French side, then Roumat knocking on.

The drama continued with a stunning 60-metre Sheehan breakout after he stripped Dupont but the impressive Kinghorn tracked back to tackle him just before he could reach the Toulouse tryline and Dupont won a huge jackal penalty.

agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

The Toulouse scrum-half’s stunning 50:22 kick down the right soon gave Toulouse some badly needed territory that eventually yielded Kinghorn’s third successful penalty when Porter was pinged at a scrum.

But Kinghorn missed with his final attempt of the half from wide on the left, teeing Leinster up for one last attack of their own. Sheehan won a jackal turnover off the 22m restart, Byrne kicked down the right, and Doris made a gigantic carry through three defenders.

Though Jenkins was chopped viciously by Santiago Chocobares, Ahki’s replacement, on the next phase, Toulouse were caught offside. Lowe thought he had scored after a brilliant surge on penalty advantage but it was ruled out as the match officials thought they found a knock-on. Lowe was flabbergasted but Byrne popped over the three for a 9-6 half-time scoreline in Toulouse’s favour.

Baird won a penalty early in the second to allow Leinster back down into Toulouse territory but Roumat rose to steal the lineout. Nonetheless, there was a chance off the tee a few minutes later when Peato Mauvaka was penalised at the breakdown and from straight in front, Byrne levelled the game.

A powerful scrum penalty gave Leinster more momentum in the 50th minute as Andrew Porter and co. strode forward. From the ensuing lineout, the Leinster attack started to fire as Doris smashed through on a slick inside pass by Sheehan, then Toulouse flanker Jack Willis went off his feet at the breakdown.

But with opportunity knocking yet again, Leinster got turned over in the maul as Sheehan was enveloped. It was huge defence from Dupont and Toulouse.

agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

Leinster came back again, two meaty carries from Porter, a regained Byrne bomb, and McCarthy’s offload to replacement back row Josh van der Flier building pressure, but Lowe’s attempt tip pass to Sheehan was picked off by Chocobares within sniffing distance of the tryline in the 55th minute.

Toulouse deserved reward for their defensive effort and they soon got it as Gibson-Park was caught offside and Kinghorn kicked the penalty from 40 metres for a 12-9 lead with just over 20 minutes left in the game.

Leinster had their next chance when Ntamack passed forward to Kinghorn and the scrum was converted into a penalty by more muscular work from Porter and co.

Byrne sent this kick into the left corner and though Toulouse’s brilliant maul defence delivered again, Leinster won a penalty in midfield for Willis not rolling away. A limping Byrne popped over the three for 12-12 with 15 minutes left.

Willis made amends with a brilliant turnover on Leinster’s next attack and down the other end, Gibson-Park pulled off a superb tackle on Kinghorn wide on the left before another stunning try-saver on the other side.

Ntamack cross-kicked and Lebel looked certain to score but somehow, Larmour got across to get his foot into touch as the Toulouse wing tried to finish.

agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

Leinster survived there but a maul penalty against McCarthy meant Ramos – on for Costes at this stage – had a shot a goal six metres in from the left touchline and nearly 40 metres out. He nailed it and Toulouse led again with just nine minutes to go.

Leinster seemed to respond well as sub out-half Ciarán Frawley, just on for Byrne, surged down the left and they were into the Toulouse 22. The forwards went to work carrying off Gibson-Park but Dupont struck once again with a sensational breakdown poach.

With five minutes to go, Frawley hung up a bomb and under pressure from Keenan, Ntamack knocked on. Scrum Leinster wide on the right outside the 22. Sub tighthead Ala’alatoa nudged forward and Carley’s arm went into the air.

With 77:42 on the clock, Frawley’s nerveless shot sailed between the uprights. 15-15.

And he very nearly won it in the last minute of regular time as Leinster worked their way into position in the Toulouse half and Frawley stepped into the pocket for the drop goal.

Agonisingly for Leinster, it edged just wide to the left. Toulouse soon had the ball back in their own half but with the clock in the red, Ntamack kicked it out and extra time was upon us.

After a brief pause, extra time started worryingly for Leinster as Lowe was sent to the sin bin just a minute in for knocking the ball on to prevent a linebreak down the right touchline.

agony again for leinster as toulouse claim their 6th champions cup crown

Ramos missed with his shot at goal but Toulouse scored another minute later. Leinster were down to 13 as Frawley lay injured wide on their left, with Toulouse sweeping the ball to the other edge where Chocobares drew Keenan to send Lebel scorching away for the first try of the game.

Ramos converted and Leinster had a mountain to climb. Dupont rubbed salt in the wounds with another sublime 50:22.

Toulouse powered forward off the maul, Leinster collapsed, and Ramos added another three for 25-15.

Then suddenly, a lifeline for Leinster. Sub Toulouse lock Arnold thundered into a ruck and drove his shoulder into Cian Healy’s head. Red card. Leinster marched down into the Toulouse half as Lowe returned. Leinster’s 15 men against Toulouse’s 14.

Ramos stopped Lowe down the left initially but Leinster’s forwards went to work and van der Flier barged over for a try that appeared to be clear when it went to TMO review. The review was interminable but finally the right decision was confirmed.

Frawley sent the conversion between the posts and Leinster were back to within three at 25-22 as Carley blew for half time in extra time.

The second half started in damaging fashion too though, Doris illegally playing the ball with his hands in a defensive ruck. Ramos was 42 metres out and left of the posts and he stroked the ball between the uprights for 28-22.

And Toulouse all but sealed it two minutes later as sub hooker Julien Marchand pounced at the breakdown for a penalty. From a slightly more central position and a little further out, Ramos made no mistake.

Leinster pushed back downfield and pounded the Toulouse tryline in the last seconds but Ugo Mola’s men held firm once again and that was it.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Josh van der Flier

Conversions: Ciarán Frawley [1 from 1]

Penalties: Ross Byrne [4 from 4], Ciarán Frawley [1 from 1]

Toulouse scorers:

Tries: Matthis Lebel

Conversions: Thomas Ramos [1 from 1]

Penalties: Blair Kinghorn [4 from 5], Thomas Ramos [4 from 5]

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Jamie Osborne, James Lowe (yellow card ET ’2); Ross Byrne (Ciarán Frawley ’70), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ET ’9 – reversal ET ’12 to ’14), Dan Sheehan (Rónan Kelleher ’70), Tadhg Furlong (Michael Ala’alatoa ’70); Joe McCarthy, Jason Jenkins (James Ryan ’40); Ryan Baird (Jack Conan ’60), Will Connors (Josh van der Flier ’45), Caelan Doris (captain).

Replacements not used: Luke McGrath

STADE TOULOUSAIN: Blair Kinghorn; Juan Cruz Mallia (Paul Graou ET ’12), Paul Costes (Thomas Ramos ’59), Pita Ahki (Santiago Chocobares ’23), Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille (Rodrigue Neti ’59), Peato Mauvaka (Julien Marchand ’55 – reversal ET ’16), Dorian Aldegheri (Joel Merkler ’55); Thibaud Flament, Emmanuel Meafou (Richie Arnold ’55 (red card ET ’9); Jack Willis, François Cros (Joshua Brennan ’68 (Emmanuel Meafou ET)), Alexandre Roumat.

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU].

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