Belfast Telegraph

Leinster left to reflect on what might have been in European Rugby Champions Cup

Toulon 25 - Leinster 20

By Andrew Baldock

Leigh Halfpenny kicked Toulon into the Champions Cup final at Twickenham next month and kept his team on course for an unprecedented European title hat-trick following an extra-time finish at Stade Velodrome.

The Wales full-back booted six penalties and a conversion of wing Bryan Habana's interception try midway through the additional 20 minutes as Toulon triumphed 25-20 to book a final against Clermont Auvergne on May 2.

Leinster gave as good as they got for most of the contest, with centre Ian Madigan kicking five penalties and flanker Sean O'Brien scoring a late try, but it was Madigan's pass that Habana intercepted to see Toulon home.

Toulon, bidding to become the first team in 20 years of European knockout club rugby to win three successive tournaments, were pushed all the way by Leinster.

Ultimately, though, Matt O'Connor's (pictured) men were left to reflect on what might have been, conceding 13 points during extra-time after holding Toulon 12-12 after 80 minutes.

Steffon Armitage had to be content with a place on the Toulon bench, providing cover for the back-row trio of Juan Smith, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Chris Masoe, while Matt Giteau partnered Mathieu Bastareaud.

Leinster fielded an unchanged team from the side that edged past quarter-final opponents Bath.

Toulon exerted pressure from the start and went ahead through a Halfpenny penalty.

But the lead proved to be short-lived as Madigan passed 100 points in Europe this season with an angled penalty and he landed two further penalties during a four-minute spell that left Toulon with food for thought.

Halfpenny narrowed the deficit via his second successful penalty 11 minutes before half time and Armitage entered the action six minutes later, replacing the injured Smith, but Leinster still held the advantage.

Frederic Michalak lasted just eight minutes of the second period before being substituted, with Bernard Laporte sending on Rudi Wolf and moving Giteau from inside centre to fly-half.

Halfpenny then missed a difficult penalty, but he made amends with a 55th-minute penalty that drew Toulon level.

Leinster continued to absorb Toulon's somewhat limited attacking game, and as the clock ticked down, it became a battle of wits.

Madigan showed signs of cracking when a penalty attempt 15 minutes from time hit the post, which gave Toulon a counter-attack, forcing their opponents into some frantic defending.

Leinster kept their defensive line intact, but they were punished at the breakdown, and Halfpenny's fourth successful penalty made it 12-9.

But Madigan continued to match him blow for blow, finding his range from just inside Toulon's half with a superb strike that levelled things up once more entering the closing 10 minutes.

Gopperth had a chance to win it for Leinster with two minutes of normal time remaining, but his drop-goal attempt drifted agonisingly wide, which meant 20 minutes of extra-time.

Halfpenny and Madigan exchanged further penalties before Toulon's New Zealand World Cup-winning lock Ali Williams was sin-binned for taking out rival lock Devin Toner in the air from a restart.

It appeared a harsh call by referee Wayne Barnes, yet Toulon galvanised themselves via another Halfpenny penalty and Habana's breakaway score that finally broke Leinster, even though O'Brien crashed over from close range with five minutes left.

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