Leinster set up Saracens showdown after proving too strong for Toulouse

By Harry West 22 April 2019 171
Leinster set up Saracens showdown after proving too strong for Toulouse

Leinster kept alive their hopes of retaining the European Champions Cup with a hard-fought but ultimately convincing 30-12 semi-final win over Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

The defending champions booked a return to this year's showpiece at St James' Park where they will face Saracens, conquerors of this competition in 2016 and 2017.

First-half tries from James Lowe and Luke McGrath had Leinster 17-6 up at the break and Scott Fardy – only promoted to the starting XV at late notice due to Rhys Ruddock's illness – barged over in the second period.

Top 14 leaders Toulouse battled gamely in front of a partisan Dublin crowd but the four-time champions were constantly fighting an uphill battle and they will now turn their attentions to securing a first domestic crown since 2012.

Meanwhile, Leinster, runaway leaders in their Pro14 conference, will be eyeing the double as they seek to extend their perfect record in European Cup finals to 5-0 against Sarries next month.

Toulouse did make the brighter start, which was rewarded by Thomas Ramos' early penalty, although Johnny Sexton swiftly restored parity and the hosts forged ahead soon after.

Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Sean O'Brien were all involved in working the ball left to Lowe, who broke a couple of tackles en route to the line.

The tide turned further in Leinster's favour as Richie Gray was sin-binned for hands in the ruck and from the resulting penalty, Sexton kicked for the corner and the driving maul allowed McGrath to touch down.

Both sides were down to 14 as Robbie Henshaw was carded for a deliberate knock-on as he defended his line, Ramos slotting the simple kick before Sexton erred from the tee and Lowe saw a second score ruled out for obstruction as the half drew to a close.

Fardy's score came on the back of his fellow forwards' fine work and was sandwiched by two Toulouse penalties – the latter after replacement Maxime Medard saw a chip-and-chase try wiped out for simultaneous grounding with the covering Garry Ringrose.

Sexton extended the lead beyond two converted tries with a simple kick 15 minutes from time and he made way for Ross Byrne, who added further gloss to the scoreline in the closing stages.

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