There was no repeat of Leinster’s 2006 quarter-final heroics as Toulouse, thanks to a four-try second half, took control of Heineken Cup Pool Six with a fine display at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday.
Out-half Valentin Courrent, the only non-international in either team from the kick-off, and French stars Clement Poitrenaud, Cedric Heymans and Vincent Clerc all touched down as the three-time European champions picked off what could prove to be a vital bonus point.
Two penalty goals from Felipe Contepomi, one of the tormentors of France during the World Cup, was all Leinster could muster on a night of frustrating errors, flat attacking and hampering injuries for the visitors.
The Irish province lost scrum half Chris Whitaker to a suspected broken ankle in the first half and Gordon D’Arcy and Girvan Dempsey also limped off in the second period, but even with their full complement, the men in blue struggled to recapture the form which saw them roar past Leicester Tigers last week.
Any hopes of a repeat of their memorable 2006 quarter-final win over Toulouse were quickly quashed as both sides made edgy starts.
After an early bout of pressure, Contepomi raised Leinster’s hopes of an away raid by smashing a 64-metre penalty through the posts. However, as the first half progressed, Toulouse, for whom Jean-Baptiste Elissalde levelled with a 23rd-minute penalty, took charge amid a series of handling errors from the visiting side.
Leinster just could not create a try-scoring chance and were left operating on the back foot for much of the second quarter.
Elissalde, Poitrenaud and makeshift number 10 Courrent started to find space for the hosts and an overthrown lineout from Leinster hooker Bernard Jackman led to the game’s first serious attack from Toulouse centre Maleli Kunavore, 25 minutes in.
Guy Noves’ men picked up the pace and a sweet interchange between Heymans, Poitrenaud and Kunavore had the latter haring towards the Leinster line. The Fijian chipped over the advancing Dempsey but Rob Kearney did excellently to cover the danger and volley the bouncing ball to touch.
Leinster were living off their water-tight defence at this stage and were almost relieved to see Courrent opt for a drop goal in the 35th-minute.
Contepomi soon squared up the game at 6-6 with another monster penalty and that is how it stayed for half-time despite referee Chris White adding almost 12 minutes of injury-time due to stoppages for Whitaker and Kunavore.
Both sides missed penalty chances before the break but Toulouse managed to unlock their bags of tricks for the second half to put a completely different complexion on the game.
All Black scrum half Byron Kelleher was sprung from the bench and France’s Florian Fritz, back from injury, also made a sizeable impression as a replacement.
Leinster were rocked onto their heels, two minutes after the restart, when a lovely kick to the left from Fritz found Heymans, the French flyer burned past Dempsey and flung a pass inside for Poitrenaud to race in and score close to the posts.
Courrent missed the simple conversion but he did make amends, after a Contepomi miss, by squeezing a 50th-minute penalty in from the right for a 14-6 lead.
Leinster then survived a couple of intercept scares before a Kearney clearance kick was charged down outside the visitors’ 22 and Yannick Nyanga scooped up the ball to put Courrent over for a sucker-punch seven-pointer.
Leinster tried in vain to mount a comeback but their attacks lacked some much-needed penetration and Toulouse marked the visitors’ danger men out of the game, most notably Yannick Jauzion on Brian O’Driscoll.
Kelleher had a hand in Toulouse’s third try when he dinked a clever kick through for Heymans to dot down in the left corner, with television match official Geoff Warren confirming the grounding.
Courrent converted, Toulouse were out of sight and the biggest cheer of the night followed in the sixth-minute of injury-time when, after Warren’s consideration, Noves’ side were awarded a precious and deserved bonus point thanks to a scrambled effort from Clerc.