Leinster reached their second Heineken Cup final in three years on Saturday by defeating holders Toulouse 32-23 in a thrilling battle of the last two European champions at the Aviva Stadium.
Leinster, who were knocked out by Toulouse at the same stage last year, put in a magnificent second-half performance and had a flawless kicking display from flyhalf Jonathan Sexton to thank for getting the better of the four-time champions.
Ireland No. 10 Sexton kicked 22 points, which, together with tries from No. 8 Jamie Heaslip and center Brian O’Driscoll were too much for Toulouse, who had raced to a 7-0 lead within the first five minutes.
They did so in slightly odd fashion when quick-thinking center Florian Fritz was first to react to a David Skrela penalty that struck the post and bounced away from the awaiting defenders.
The Irish side, champions for the first and only time in 2009, drew back within four points 10 minutes later after Sexton, who missed the corresponding fixture last year, kicked two penalties either side of a fine drop goal from Skrela.
The hosts got their first try on the half hour when man of the match Heaslip ended a period of pressure on the visitors line by sneaking over for a score that took the video referee a couple of camera angles to verify.
Leinster lost Ireland captain O’Driscoll to the sin bin shortly afterwards, but Skrela’s resulting successful penalty was canceled out when Sexton restored the three-point lead with the last kick of the half.
Toulouse, playing in a record 10th semi-final in the 16-year-old competition, made better use of the extra man in the second half and an easy try for number eight Loius Picamoles, converted by Skrea, put Leinster 20-16 behind when O’Driscoll returned.
Sexton trimmed the French side’s lead back to a point a couple of minutes later with another penalty and following five breathtaking minutes of open rugby, kicked Leinster back in front with his toughest effort of the day.
Leinster continued to batter their opponents back with South African hooker Richardt Strauss particularly outstanding and the pressure told shortly before the hour when O’Driscoll crossed over for one of the simpler tries of an illustrious career.
Replacement flyhalf Nicolas Bezy got Toulouse back within a try, kicking a long distance penalty.
Sexton replied yet again on the fulltime whistle to book a place in the May 21 final at Cardiff’s -Millenium Stadium against the winner of yesterday’s other semi between Northampton and Perpignan.
“They played some amazing rugby and we didn’t play our best. But no guts, no glory,” Heaslip told Sky Sports
“Both teams had their purple patches, they forced the ball around, caused a lot of problems and we did too when we got into their 22,” he said. “We have a lot of leaders in that team and that showed in the final minutes. We were just focusing on doing the little jobs, the little details.”
“We’re going to have to look at the video because we didn’t play as well as we could have done. We’ll have to be on top of our game to compete in the final and win this competition,” he said.