Berliner Tageblatt - Toulouse outlast Leinster in Champions Cup final thriller

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Toulouse outlast Leinster in Champions Cup final thriller
Toulouse outlast Leinster in Champions Cup final thriller / Photo: © AFP

Toulouse outlast Leinster in Champions Cup final thriller

Toulouse inflicted yet more Champions Cup final heartbreak on Leinster with a thrilling 31-22 extra-time win over the Irish province as the French side were crowned kings of European club rugby for a record-extending sixth time on Saturday.

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But for Leinster this agonising reverse in London meant they had lost the last three Champions Cup finals following successive defeats by another French club in La Rochelle.

In a match where neither side managed a try in a regulation 80 minutes at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium that ended level at 15-15 after five penalties apiece, Toulouse struck early in the first 10 minutes of stoppage time with a try from wing Matthis Lebel.

But they had to play the bulk of extra time down to 14 men after Richie Arnold was sent off before penalties from fellow replacement Thomas Ramos helped Toulouse gain revenge for defeats by Leinster in the 2022 and 2023 semi-finals.

Leinster and Ireland wing James Lowe had just been sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and the Dublin-based team were effectively two men down, with replacement Ciaran Frawley injured, when Lebel exploited the numerical advantage to score the first try of the match early in extra time.

Ramos converted and then added a penalty to make it 25-15.

But in a further twist, Arnold was sent off by English referee Matthew Carley in the 89th minute for an illegal clear-out on Cian Healy.

Leinster then finally had a try when Josh van der Flier burrowed over from close range although it needed a lengthy television review to confirm the grounding.

Frawley converted and Leinster were within three points at 22-25 come the end of the first half of extra time.

But Ramos landed two more penalties as Toulouse pulled nine points clear.

Earlier Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn and Leinster fly-half Ross Byrne landed four penalties each, before Ramos's long-range effort nudged the Top 14 team three points ahead in the 70th minute.

But Leinster, themselves four-time champions of Europe, equalised courtesy of a penalty from Frawley, then off target with a last-minute drop-goal that would have won the game.

- First clash of European heavyweights -

Saturday's match was the first time the European heavyweights -- the two most successful teams in the competition's history -- had met in the final.

Toulouse almost opened the scoring in just 90 seconds when, after a charge by lock Emmanuel Meafou, Juan Cruz Mallia and France scrum-half star Antoine Dupont combined down the right touchline before the Argentina wing touched down at the corner.

But Dupont, the player of the match, was ruled to have been tackled into touch by another world-class scrum-half in Ireland's Jamison Gibson-Park just before getting his pass away.

Toulouse's pack established a platform for a 6-0 lead as Scotland full-back Kinghorn, preferred to France's Ramos, landed two early penalties.

Leinster, rather than go for goal with a penalty, kicked for an attacking line-out near Toulouse's line in the hope of scoring a try.

But as happened several times, only brilliant Toulouse defence kept Leinster at bay and played a key role in the eventual outcome.

Both sides squandered promising moves by trying to throw 'miracle' passes, with Sheehan intercepting one from the otherwise impressive Dupont, only to be hauled down in sight of a try by Kinghorn's last-ditch tackle.

Kinghorn's third successful goal-kick made it 9-3 before he was just short with a difficult 45-metre penalty.

Leinster thought they had a try in first-half stoppage time when Lowe went in at the left corner.

But Carley had already blown for a penalty which Byrne landed to leave Toulouse three points down at 6-9 come half-time.

Kinghorn then restored Toulouse's lead with a 40-metre penalty from centre-field before Byrne equalised.

Toulouse then came desperately close to a try 11 minutes from time when a leaping Lebel was just forced into touch by Jordan Larmour following a superb cross-kick by France fly-half Romain Ntamack. But Toulouse triumphed all the same.