herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Euro exit shape of things to come for Leinster

Mistakes and indiscipline prove to be their downfall

Jonathan Sexton leaves the pitch looking disappointed
Jonathan Sexton leaves the pitch looking disappointed
Leinster’s Luke Fitzgerald is not happy with a decision

It was painted as a journey into the mouth of a monster.

In ten years time, the Champions Cup may just look back on Leinster and Munster as the Ajax of rugby, clubs which once ruled Europe through their internal engine only to be overtaken and devoured by the unstoppable momentum that broadcast millions bring to the two big leagues.

The doomsday scenario was rooted in cold, hard facts that made this the closest thing you could get to mission impossible.

A ragged, disorganised Toulon reacted to their humiliation at Wasps in with thunderous anger to demolish Clermont-Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin and Agen at their noise-throbbing Stade Mayol in the French Top-14.

In contrast, Leinster followed their stinging 27-point fall to Wasps with a three-point reverse to Bath and a five-point overhaul of Ulster.

The former champions were sent out as fodder for the market place, set to be eaten alive by the financial and macho muscle of the unlovable French club.

Toulon do not create anything from within the heart of the club. They simply buy and beat.

The structure of Irish rugby demands that Leinster build through their Academy.

Josh van der Flier was framed as the latest great light hope in the face of world heavyweights.

The first sign was marked mediocre as Jonathan Sexton's kick travelled to the dead-ball line.

However, tight-head Matt Stevens lost his feet at a scrum and Sexton nailed three points from halfway.

A swift and certain counter, triggered by Sexton, tempted prop Florian Fresia to give up a penalty which Sexton smacked from distance for 6-0 in as many minutes

Drew Mitchell smashed into Sexton, the fly-half slow to find his feet.

Cian Healy's elbow hit the floor at a scrum for a penalty. Matt Giteau went straight for the corner.

Samu Manoa reached for the dart and Steffon Armitage had an armchair ride to the line for Eric Escande to move Toulon one ahead.

Mike McCarthy's indiscipline cost Leinster three points to Escande in the 20th minute.

A cleanly executed move off a solid scrum yielded Sexton's third penalty.

The whole tenor of the tussle changed when Healy was binned for a foolhardy hit on hooker Guilhem Guirado.

Devin Toner was twice involved in preventing the home side from making hay from a lineout and one phase after it.

Leinster were not content to hold on, although Luke Fitzgerald was stunningly aggressive in defence.

Toner snatched a ball against the throw. But, for a second time, Sexton overcooked a kick to the corner as the half concluded.

The Toulon lineout was coming apart. Fitzgerald's stepping was catching the eye. Rhys Ruddock and Van der Flier were thriving in the nitty-grity.

First, Sexton's penalty missed badly to the right. Then, Toner was binned for his work at a maul.

There was heroic defence from Leinster in turning back the tide of heavy artillery, Escande finally making it 13-9 in the 50th minute.

Rob Kearney was nabbed by Delon Armitage, then didn't release the ball, allowing Escande to extract another three.

Toulon were turning the screw. Ma'a Nonu grubbered to apply lineout pressure as they looked for territory.

Sexton's mistakes were rising, a wayward pass taking the wind out of a promising attack.

Grinding

The grinding work of Toulon was pushing Leinster to the limit, Tom Denton causing a turnover five metres out.

They could not escape and Escande made it a two-score game when Toulon's scrum churned out a penalty in the 67th minute.

The Irish did manufacture one last chance with Ruddock's rip of the ball and Fitzgerald's threaded ball.

They promptly lost the lineout, the war at the breakdown and Denton to a third yellow in the last minute.

Armitage's second try put Leinster out of their misery and the competition.

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