European Rugby Cup Final: Leinster Versus Toulouse

European Cup Final: Leinster Versus Toulouse

There seems to be an assumption doing the rounds in some quarters that Leinster are more or less entitled to win the European cup, and that any failure to do so will represent a monumental failure of character, coaching, and squad management. There have already been calls for Leo Cullen’s head should Leinster fail to lift the trophy and thus replicate the failure of recent seasons.

Not only is this disrespectful of the achievement of getting to the final so regularly in the first place, it is ignorant of the quality of opposition Leinster have faced in recent finals. Strong though the Leinster squad is, the Toulouse squad is, arguably even stronger. Let us compare their resources, position by position – players in BOLD are full internationals.

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Leinster may boast a wealth of back row talent, but Toulouse have three of the top full backs in the 6 Nations in their squad – Ramos (the best goal kicker in the world), Capuozzo (star of the Italian side), and Kinghorn (who ably replaced Hogg in the Scotland team). Added to this they have arguably the best half-back combination in the world in Dupont and NTamack. Virtually their entire first team squad are full internationals, and generally not marginal internationals either.

The top class matchups are everywhere. Leinster have Ireland’s top two hookers in Sheehan and Kelleher, ditto Toulouse with Marchand and Mauvuka France’s top two hookers. Toulouse’s props and locks are seasoned internationals, and Baird is matched against Flament, the outstanding French lock/backrow. Van Der Flier is matched by Willis, the seasoned English test open side.

Costes (21) is the sole non-international in their team, but he has been tearing up against all comers this season, having been part of the French u.20 team which hammered Ireland in the World Cup final last summer. His battle with Leinster’s non-international, Jamie Osborne (22), will be intriguing to watch.

Neither are Toulouse a team of international mercenaries. Joshua Brennan, Romain Ntamack, Alexandre Roumat, Paul Graou, Arthur Bonneval, Arthur Retière and Matthis Lebel are all following in the footsteps of their fathers in French teams – Brennan’s father also played for Leinster and Ireland, of course. Toulouse are every bit as community focused as Leinster and have a proud tradition in the game, having won a record 5 European Cups and a record 22 Boucliers de Brennus.

Toulouse have only had four head coaches in the last 42 years – Pierre Villepreux: 1982-89, Jean-Claude Skrela: 1983-92, Guy Novès: 1993-2015 and Ugo Mola: 2015-to the present and thus represent a picture of stability in turbulent rugby management world. They play with a consistent philosophy and are liable to attack from anywhere on the pitch. Their players have a licence to express themselves and are not forced to conform to a very orthodox systems approach.

Whereas a second string Leinster struggled against Ulster, a second string Toulouse side beat Montpellier away last week-end. They have also had big wins against Stade Français and Racing 92 in recent weeks, either side of beating Harlequins in their Semi Final, and currently lead the Top 14 table ahead of Stade Français, Bordeaux, Toulon, La Rochelle and Racing 92. Not too many easy matches there.

The URC has come a long way since the South African big four clubs joined, but Leinster have not consistently played to the same high standard – nor have they had to. The Leinster team will have to play more like the Irish team in recent seasons if they are to have any chance of winning against Toulouse on Saturday, and while they have the ability to do so, they will have to overcome the psychological baggage of recent final and semi-final defeats if they are to do so.

Leinster have made a habit of starting well, only to become defensive when trying to protect a lead – rather than continuing to do what got them the lead in the first place. There have also been some dodgy decisions on field, like Leinster turning down a shot at goal last week-end which would have given them a 4 point lead against an Ulster side that had not troubled Leinster’s try line over much.

When judged by the highest standards, Leinster have two weaknesses: Tight head prop cover below Furlong when he needs to be substituted, and out half, where Ross Byrne doesn’t offer much of a running threat – unlike Ntamack. His brother, Harry Byrne, also didn’t have the most auspicious of outings against Ulster, throwing the pass that was intercepted by Stockdale to turn a possible Leinster scoring opportunity into a 7 point concession and not having a great game otherwise.

Frawley has been rarely used in the out half position, and Sam Prendergast has been deemed not yet ready for this level but seems to have the most potential. Leinster probably need to accelerate his progression. Otherwise, he will be tempted to go elsewhere, with Connacht looking for his services on loan while JJ Hanrahan is out with a long term injury. If Toulouse can give 21 year old Costes a starting position, Leinster will have to consider doing the same with Prendergast, if not on Saturday, then pretty soon afterwards.

As regards a tight head replacement for Ala’alatoa, who is leaving for Clermont, Leinster also need to aim high. Their scrum has consistently struggled when Furlong and Porter are unavailable. Virtually all top French and English clubs have two test class tightheads, which they rotate to avoid over playing one or the other. It’s time for Nienaber to earn his corn and attract a top class scrummaging tight head for next season.

Otherwise, Leinster are in good shape, with only Ringrose unavailable from their first choice team. Similarly, Toulouse are missing only Jelaunch from their first XV. It should be a great match between two great teams, decided perhaps, by the bounce of a ball or a tight refereeing decision. A lot of this Leinster team have yet to win a major trophy with Leinster. It is time they corrected that omission.

I will update this post when the teams are announced and perhaps with a live blog during/after the match. Please refresh page for updates!

Teams Announced! (Leinster caps in brackets)

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I’m slightly surprised that Ramos doesn’t start, and that Jimmy O’Brien doesn’t even make the Leinster bench – mainly due to a 6:2 bench split for Leinster. It seems clear that Leinster hope to take on Toulouse up front and are hoping they don’t cop too many injuries in the backs. They will try to grind Toulouse down rather than engage in Toulouse’s free-running style of play and finish with some of their best players on the pitch. It is the end game where Leinster have been vulnerable in the past, so this selection smacks of getting on top near the end and staying there!


Live Blog: Leinster 22 Toulouse 31 f/t

Two early 50 metre penalties for Kinghorn after a Toulouse try disallowed for a foot in touch. It’s all Toulouse in the early minutes, but then Leinster turn the tide and create a few try scoring opportunities. A try for McCarthy is ruled out for a knock on, but was it? The ref blew his whistle early. Finally, Leinster take the 3 points. A slim reward for considerable dominance. 3-6

All Irish teams are poor at restarts, and Leinster lose the restart but are soon on the attack again. A dodgy penalty against Osborne gives Toulouse a way out. Some fine decisions have gone against Leinster.  A brilliant 50:22 by Dupoint gives Toulouse the initiative again. Porter concedes a scrum penalty and Kinghorn nails it again. 3-9.

Ross Byrne puts the restart straight out. Another strange penalty against Larmour but Kinghorn misses it. Leinster finally get a penalty after an age in the jackal and then another for off-side even though Lowe dots down. Byrne nails it 6-9 h/t.

Based on the balance of play, Leinster should be ahead, but they didn’t manage to finish a few try scoring opportunities, although Toulouse also nearly got in for one. It’s been a ferocious match so far but with the stronger bench, you would fancy Leinster (marginally) to take it by the end.

Leinster bring on Ryan and shortly afterwards, Van Der Flier to strengthen their resources. Both  have an immediate impact, and strangely, the ref. doesn’t give a penalty for failure to release Van Der Flier in the air. Kinghorn kicks another penalty for off-side.  9-12.

A one legged Byrne kicks a gimme penalty to make it 12-12 and then Frawley comes on. Ramos comes on and kicks a difficult penalty – 12-15.  Leinster drive forward again but again Toulouse jackal successfully.  Frawley kicks high and Ntamack knocks on. Leinster win a penalty and Frawley nails the difficult clutch kick. He narrowly misses a drop goal attempt shortly afterwards but Leinster keep on the pressure and Ntamack kicks it dead. 15-15 f/t.

This is where Leinster’s strong bench will hopefully come into its own. Leinster have been on top in terms of territory and possession but just couldn’t breach the Toulouse line. McCarthy has been immense, as was Sheehan and Baird before him. But its still all to play for… For Toulouse, Dupoint has been immense but Toulouse will need more miracle plays in extra time.

Lowe is binned for a deliberate knock on even though he knocked  the ball up rather than down. Frawley is injured and Label scores in the corner with Lowe off the pitch. 15-22. Kelleher goes off his feet and Ramos kicks the penalty 15-22. Andrew Porter comes off after almost 90 minutes on the pitch.

Arnold is red carded for a shoulder on head clear-out on Healy who has to go off for a HIA and Porter is on again. This must be a world record for a loose head prop! Van der Flier get’s the close in try 6 minutes into extra time on over time after a long TMO intervention. Frawley nails the conversion 22-25 after h/t in extra time.

Doris concedes a silly penalty and Ramos shanks it over.  22-28. Then Cian Healy goes on his own and is isolated . Another silly penalty, and another 90 seconds wasted. Ramos doesn’t miss. 22-31.Frawley narrowly misses another drop goal.

This has been an epic encounter between two great sides. The ref didn’t do Leinster any favours, but on balance, Leinster can’t complain. They were marginally bested on the day.  Silly penalties at crucial times did for them.  There is no disgrace in losing a match like this. It was an epic for the ages and a credit to all 46 players involved.



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