Leinster 40-17 Toulouse: Lowe claims double as four-time European champions reach final

By Sports Desk May 14, 2022

James Lowe scored a try in each half as magnificent Leinster reached the European Champions Cup final with a 40-17 defeat of holders Toulouse at a raucous Aviva Stadium.

Leinster will face La Rochelle or Racing 92 at the Stade Velodrome on May 28 after a hugely impressive win over the Top 14 side in Dublin on Saturday.

Johnny Sexton pulled the strings and scored 15 points in an influential display as Leo Cullen's side, who scored four tries, kept themselves in the hunt to match Toulouse's record tally of being crowned European champions for a fifth time in Marseille. 

Fly-half Sexton's penalty put Leinster in front, but Antoine Dupont raced from deep in his own half to go under the posts to punish Jamison Gibson-Park for a poor grubber kick.

Sexton doubled his tally with the boot and Leinster were rewarded for piling on the pressure with two tries in the space of five minutes, Lowe finishing from close range before Josh van der Flier crashed over after they lost Tadhg Furlong to injury only 16 minutes in.

It was five successful kicks out of five for Sexton when he added another penalty after one from Thomas Ramos at the other end, before Emmanuel Meafou was sin-binned late in the first half.

Leinster failed to increase their 23-10 lead while Meafou was off the field, but Lowe was left with a simple finish after he was picked out by the excellent Sexton, who expertly added the extras.

Selevasio Tolofua gave defiant Toulouse hope when he bundled himself over in the right corner and Ramos converted with 15 minutes to go, but Ross Byrne was on target with a penalty and converted a late Hugo Keenan try as Cullen's men marched into the final.

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    Eddie Jones has the respect of England's players but must deliver results if he is to lift pressure from his shoulders ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup, according to former Australia captain George Gregan.

    Experienced coach Jones had his future called into question on the back of another poor Six Nations campaign for England, who finished a distant third behind Ireland and champions France with two wins from five matches.

    Jones is under contract until after the 2023 World Cup and has been given the support of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), although performance director Conor O'Shea confirmed in March the search is under way for the 62-year-old's long-term successor.

    Former Australia boss Jones has repeatedly stated that peaking in time for next year's showpiece in France is his big aim, with his side's three-Test series Down Under – their first summer tour in four years – providing an opportunity to further experiment.

    While Gregan can understand the questions being asked of Jones, the retired scrum-half – who played under Jones for Australia and the Brumbies – understands supporters want to see signs of progress now.

    "I think pressure is always there with a head coach," said Gregan, ahead of Saturday's first Test in Perth. "I'm not going to speak on his behalf, but he knows that as a head coach it's all results driven in professional sport.

    "If you're not getting the results, and particularly if you're not getting consistent Ws [wins], then it does come around: 'Why is the team not performing?' That was definitely the case with Six Nations where there's patches of really good performances.

    "But then obviously some things also which can get taken out of your hands, which is decision-making, you lose plays in the bin, all that kind of stuff. But that's rugby. And so how do you adapt? And how do you adjust? But they're all good experiences and learning experiences.

    "I know there was no Jonny May, there was no Owen Farrell, there's a lot of players missing in that Six Nations campaign, they'll probably take part in this coming tour. And then he's built a nice squad."

    Gregan is supporting The Open Championship Claret Jug Tour, partnered with HSBC UK, and he added: "I think you've always got your eyes a little bit ahead for the World Cup. And that's definitely the case for someone like Eddie and all coaches, but it's also the here and now, and they'll be looking to really improve and try not to drop out of games. I think every good team wants to do that."

     

    England may have struggled for consistent form, but they have won their last eight Tests against Australia since October 2015, conceding an average of just 14 points per game across the last four of those matches.

    Jones is undefeated against his country of birth during his near-seven-year England tenure, meanwhile, and famously oversaw a series whitewash in 2016.

    Gregan believes the England boss will have the full backing of his dressing room.

    "Eddie is a real players' coach. He's really driven to create the best environment for his players to perform," Gregan said. "He's the hardest marker on the team's performance on himself. I think you see that a lot.

    "He'll deflect to the team when it's doing well, and he’ll take ownership when it's not doing well. That's a classic head coach, and he's never wavered from that. And I think that's why the players really respect him.

    "He's hard, he's very consistent in terms of his messaging. He's very clear on what he wants the team to do. But he also empowers the playing group to try and do that. And that's the coach's coach.

    "And ultimately, I think from my experiences with Eddie, he really wants the players to be sort of taking the reins on the field and making sure they're really comfortable making decisions to provide support.

    "But as you know, coaches are sort of in the grandstand, there's only a limited amount that they can do once the players are on the pitch. I think that's what he tries to do, and all good head coaches try to encourage those leaders and the players on the field to make good decisions, which hopefully put you on the right side of the ledger."

    Australia have lost three straight Tests heading into their first fixture with England this weekend, two of those by a margin of no more than two points – the last time they lost more successive games was a four-game stretch from June to August in 2018.

    However, the Wallabies have won their last four matches on home turf, and four of their past seven when hosting European opposition, which Gregan believes will make for an entertaining series.

    "England playing Australia in any sport is always exciting – particularly rugby," Gregan said. "Obviously there's that little touch with Eddie being a former Wallabies coach and obviously Australian. And he's had a great record against the Wallabies since he's taken over the helm in English rugby.

    "It's gonna be a fantastic series, Dave Rennie, the Wallaby coaching staff and the playing group will be really targeting the series as something, which is another step in the right direction for being consistent and beating some of the top international teams.

    "Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, on the bounce. So, three big Test matches over three consecutive weeks. And I think both teams, stating the obvious, will want to get off to a pretty hot start in Perth, because it's always good to be one up in those types of series."


    :: The Open Championship Claret Jug Tour will visit schools, golf clubs, city centres and HSBC branches.

  • Farrell 'very unhappy' to lose England captaincy to Lawes, says Jones Farrell 'very unhappy' to lose England captaincy to Lawes, says Jones

    Owen Farrell is "very unhappy" to have been replaced as England captain by Courtney Lawes for Saturday's series opener against Australia, head coach Eddie Jones confirmed.

    Lawes stepped into the role late last year and, like Tom Curry, went on to captain England during the Six Nations, with Farrell absent due to ankle problems.

    Farrell is back in the fold after making a full recovery from those injuries, but it would seem any preconceptions about walking straight back into the captaincy role were misplaced.

    The armband has been with Farrell since 2018, meaning Saturday's match will be his first for England without being captain since the 2018 Six Nations.

    But given the injury troubles he has had, Jones wants Farrell to focus on his form without the distraction of the key leadership role.

    When asked about Farrell's reaction to his decision, Jones said: "Very unhappy.

    "Owen is a bloke who expresses his feelings clearly and he wants to be captain. When I told him he wasn't going to be captain, he wasn't very happy. But that's okay.

    "Owen's had a fair while out of the team and at this stage we feel it's the best thing for the team and for Owen, because he's a very important player for us.

    "He has played 94 Tests for England and he has won every trophy in the world, apart from the World Cup. He's a pretty fair player and he's a very important player for us.

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    Billy Vunipola is back for his first England outing since the 2021 Six Nations, though Jonny May is absent after testing positive for coronavirus last week.

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    "We have had very strong preparation for this game," he added.

    "We did some good recovery work in Fremantle and quality training in Perth. The squad has come together well since we met up last week.

    "Picking the 23 out of this group of 36 was difficult. We feel we have a well-balanced team, which is ready for this improving Australia team. We'll take it to them from the start."

     

    England team:  Freddie Steward, Jack Nowell, Joe Marchant, Owen Farrell, Joe Cokanasiga, Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

    Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Jack van Poortlviet, Guy Porter, Henry Arundell.

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    Los Leones booked a place in the competition for the first time in 24 years in March through the Rugby Europe Championship.

    However, World Rugby announced in April that Spain had been booted out of the competition after being found to have fielded an ineligible player in two preliminary matches.

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