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Thursday 29 September 2016

Heroic Blues ever so close as they slip to Toulon in extra time

Leinster push champions Toulon to limit as Habana try tips balance

Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip
Jimmy Gopperth of Leinster attempts to win the match in normal time with a late drop goal attempt during the European Rugby Champions Cup semi final match between RC Toulon and Leinster at Stade Velodrome on April 19, 2015

Leinster slipped to a heroic Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Toulon in an agonising extra-time.

The prophets of doom were dealing with rational, reasoning and all relevant evidence when forecasting the demise of Leinster's season.

All of that went out the window when a sense of siege took over.

The delivery of the improbable became possible. Believing was seeing.

They just couldn't find the edge in the end.

Indeed, Leinster couldn't have made a worse start. Ian Madigan overcooked the kick-off for the concession of a scrum on halfway.

Leinster's indiscpline at ruck coughed up a penalty which Toulon would have turned into seven points were it not for the fact Chris Masoe was in front of Frederic Michalak's Garryowen which Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney could not tame.

Still, Leigh Halfpenny opened up with a penalty on eight minutes.

READ MORE: Heroic Leinster fall at the death to Toulon in thrilling semi-final

Jordi Murphy's chase and capture of Bryan Habana was the trigger for Leinster to flood forward. Bakkies Botha could have seen yellow for a cynical challenge on Cian Healy.

Instead, Madigan split the posts from wide on the right.

Devin Toner controlled the restart and Botha was pinged for blatantly rushing into the side of a set maul. The mistakes continued to come and the intensity right along with it.

Gopperth's lovely angled ball put Leinster in prime location. Masoe was spotted not supporting his weight for Madigan to turn it 6-3 in their favour in the 20th minute.

The Irish cranked up the scum for another penalty. Flanker Murphy went high out of touch. Ai Williams tugged his shirt and Madigan made it 9-3 one minute later.

The conditions were becoming nothing short of treacherous. They were better off without the ball.

When Cian Healy was in at the side of a ruck, Halfpenny exacted a three-point toll on the half-hour.

Unbelievably, Madigan's restart travelled dead again. Mike McCarthy and Ben Te'o corralled Tilllous-Borde for a turnover maul.

Mike Ross was beginning to look like the most important part of the puzzle, forcing another penalty out of Xavier Chiocci.

Steffon Armitage announced his introduction for Juan Smith by poaching a penalty.

The athletic Murphy ruined a Toulon attacking lineout meant for Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe for Leinster to hold on 9-6 at the interval.

The slippery standards rained on. A power-packed Toulon maul was taken to the floor. Halfpenny pushed the penalty right.

The sharp work of Kearney and O'Brien backed up by Madigan's bobbling ball forced a rare mistake from Giteau.

An untidy scrum was rescued by Gopperth's blockdown on Giteau, the fly-half unable to control a devilishly difficult ball as Halfpenny slid in.

Referee Wayne Barnes allowed Toulon the hit and chase at scrum time for Halfpenny to nudge them level in the 57th minute.

Martin Moore's first impact was to convince Barnes of a penalty for holding on by Bastareaud.

Gopperth turned it into real profit by landing the penalty well inside Toulon's '22'.

They stayed there to draw a shot for Madigan to hit the post.

Gopperth was whistled for slowing down ruck ball. Halfpenny slipped Toulon 12-9 ahead in the 68th minute.

A stray foot from Fernandez-Lobbe in a Leinster ruck handed Madigan the chance to brilliantly square it in the 70th minute.

The replacement front row of Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss and Moore was rock solid for a scrum turnover and they re-engaged to churn out a penalty.

Leinster were clinical in their work at lineout and on the charge to set up Gopperth for a drop goal to slide wide.

It all came down to a penalty awarded at a maul for Delon Armitage to hammer a shot to everything. It was never close.

In was extra-time, Madigan's restart was perfect for Toner and his threaded ball on the floor was a gem.

The champions squeezed a penalty at the first scrum and Halfpenny found the target.

Jocelino Suta had Strauss in a dangerous coke hold to give Madigan an opening which he took splendidly from the left touchline in the 86th minute.

Immediately, Toner's superb claim of the restart was jeopardised by Ali Williams contact in the air for which the lock was binned.

Kearney countered. Masoe clamped down for the penalty, dispatched by Halfpenny.

The benefit from Strauss's turnover was lost when Madigan's long pass was picked off by Bryan Habana for what looked like the killer try with Halfpenny's conversion taking it out to a decisive 25-15 lead.

It was time for Leinster to produce their best rugby of the season. They carried straight and hard to earn a penalty.

The ball was guaranteed at the lineout and O'Brien was in possession as they steamrolled over. Gopperth could not convert.

They could not get close enough to land another blow.

 

toulon 25 leinster 20

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