Leinster had the game for the taking when a pass from Luke McGrath was intercepted and scored down the other end. Leinster’s great comeback was over. Toulouse 28-27 Leinster.
A single point loss to a French side in Europe might be seen as a noble defeat for most, but for this Leinster side it is not good enough.
To have a chance to potentially end Toulouse’s participation in the competition, assuming a victory in the RDS next January, and to slip up in such a way is maddening. Toulouse are sure to improve as the season progresses. They have always had the knack of being strongest in the early Summer. Letting them off the hook could come back to haunt Leinster come May.
It was a fascinating game. Toulouse’s aggression from the start forced Leinster into mistakes. At times the offload was attempted where it would have been more advisable to go to deck, and this seemed to just hand back possession to the French. They punished us with points on the board for many of these mistakes.
Despite being behind for most of the game, however, there appeared to be some control in the Leinster side. They had a purpose, were struggling with some of the basics, but being two scores behind did not seem like a problem that they could not overcome.
The players settled down after the opening quarter and started to believe that if they kept to the game plan, they would play their way back into the match.
Medard’s try, the first one, should have been better defended. There’s no way to sugar coat that Joe Tomane made a mistake only a centre playing on the wing could. He showed Medard the inside, where he had players covering, instead of the outside, where the cold, hard white of the touchline would have been a better ally.
Does Leo Cullen have to ship some blame for this? It’s hard to think that Leinster’s huge well of talent had dried up so much that there was no other experienced winger ready to play. It takes time to build up the skills with such a switch, time Tomane did not have, and I think it was a risk that backfired for the opening score.
There’s no doubt that building this skill in Tomane could make him a formidable player. I remember when Eddie O’Sullivan switched Andrew Trimble to wing during a World Cup. He was awful in that tournament, looking lost at sea in the unfamiliar position, but there’s no doubt that he adapted quickly and soon was the obvious choice for the number fourteen shirt.
Perhaps the injuries to the next two most experienced players, David Kearney and Fergus McFadden, coupled with the injury to fullback Rob Kearney prompted the decision to play someone with more game time experience than positional experience.
Back to the game last Sunday. Toulouse simply fronted up better than any opposition that we’ve seen this season and perhaps this year. We had some close games in the knock out stages of both competitions in 2018, but the back to back fixtures against the Exeter Chiefs were the toughest last season. I don’t think Leinster have been challenged so much since then.
It was a thoroughly exciting and interesting game, despite Wayne Barnes efforts to blow his whistle every other minute. Perhaps it was just to catch breath, the pace of play was non-stop.
Toulouse counter-attacked with such pace and intelligence that the boys in blue were not safe even with the ball. In many ways, they shot themselves in the foot over and over again. Mistakes forced by an aggressive, passionate team with a cauldron of noise that could only make communication more difficult.
The usual suspects stood out for Leinster: Ryan, Lowe, Henshaw, Sexton, Toner, Cronin, both McGraths. Although Luke was the culprit for the turnover, he was clever all game and a thorn in Toulouse’s side.
We got a losing bonus point. They now top the table and we face the dreaded back to backs in December. Bath may not feel like the most dangerous of teams but the Rec can be a tricky place to visit.
Assuming we get out of the back to backs with eight out of ten points and so do Tolouse from their encounters with Wasps, and that we can beat Toulouse in the return fixture back in the RDS, we will head to Coventry playing to win the group.
There is an extra spice added to the upcoming games in December, danger mixed with anticipation. It should be another great fortnight of rugby.