European cup heading to England or Ireland

by Staff Writer

LEINSTER V TOULOUSE

Ireland's 2009 European Cup winners Leinster beat holders Toulouse 32-23 on Saturday in their semi-final at Lansdowne Road to gain revenge for losing to the French side at the same stage last year.

Tries from man of the match Jamie Heaslip and iconic centre Brian O'Driscoll - who had been sin-binned late in the first-half - plus 22 points from the boot of Ireland five-eighth Jonathan Sexton saw the hosts progress to the final.

They will play the winners of Sunday's semi-final between 2000 champions Northampton and French side Perpignan.

Toulouse had got a lucky break early on as David Skrela missed with a penalty but the bounce over the tryline tricked O'Driscoll - who had given away the original penalty - and Florian Fritz followed up the kick to touch down.

Sexton slotted over two penalties while Skrela grabbed one before Leinster got their first try.

It came after a sustained period of pressure on the Toulouse line saw Heaslip, who had started the initial move, just get the ball over the line for his ninth career try in the competition.

Sexton converted to make it 13-10 but then late in the half the hosts were hit by O'Driscoll's sinbinning after a tackle on France wing Vincent Clerc.

Skrela slotted over the penalty but Leinster went in 16-13 up after the metronomic Sexton added a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

The visitors regained the lead five minutes into the second-half, with O'Driscoll still off the pitch, as former France backrow forward Louis Picamoles went over and Skrela added the conversion.

Sexton, though, kept adding vital points for the hosts as after Shane Horgan had made a great foray into Toulouse territory the visitors were penalised and Sexton stroked over a superb penalty from out on the left.

The home supporters joy -- and that of O'Driscoll -- was unconfined as the Ireland captain broke through a lame tackle by Clerc in the 59th minute to touch down for a try - which Sexton converted for a 29-20 lead.

The Leinster defence held firm as did their discipline under great pressure but the visitors reduced the deficit to six points with six minutes remaining when Nicolas Bezy slotted over a penalty.

However, despite Toulouse manager Guy Noves sending on veteran Yannick Jauzion they were not able to break the Irish side and it was Sexton who rounded off the scoring with another superb penalty on the final whistle to make it eight successful kicks from eight attempts.

NORTHAMPTON V PERPIGNAN

Northampton set up a European Cup final against Leinster after notching up a comfortable 23-7 victory over Perpignan on Sunday.

The Saints will now face the Irish province, 32-23 winners over Toulouse on Saturday, in the final of European club rugby's showpiece event at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on May 21.

Tries from England fullback Ben Foden and centre Jon Clarke, allied with three penalties and two conversions from Stephen Myler were enough to outclass Perpignan, for whom hooker Guilhem Guirado scored a try converted by Nicolas Laharrague.

Northampton coach Jim Mallinder called the result "something special".

"I'm delighted with the lads, the first half was outstanding and they kept it going," Mallinder told Sky Sports.

"We've got a really good group, and they're playing well. It's massive for the town, club, players, everyone involved. We don't want to go to the final and lose."

Man-of-the-match Phil Dowson highlighted Northampton's discipline as key, with the home side conceding only one penalty in the first-half, albeit one Perpignan eventually scored from.

"We've got there and are still unbeaten," Dowson said. "We're delighted with it.

"We played with territory and played with pressure."

The final, he said, was "a massive challenge". "The ambition of club is to be in big games and it doesn't get any bigger than Leinster in Cardiff."

Perpignan prop Perry Freshwater credited the Saints' tactics of running the French team around the park.

"They ran us around a lot and we defended a lot," the Kiwi-born ex-England prop said. "That was very smart from Northampton against us old, fat fellahs.

"They got on top of us at the end of the game. There was a lack of discipline, but Northampton were very good on the day."

On Saturday, 2009 champions Leinster beat holders Toulouse 32-23 to reach the final.

Tries from No.8 Jamie Heaslip and centre Brian O'Driscoll plus 22 points from the boot of Ireland five-eighth Jonathan Sexton saw the Irish province progress after a strong performance in the final quarter in Dublin.

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