Toulouse beat European Cup champions Leinster to reach final

Three-time champions Toulouse defeated reigning champions Leinster 26-16 on Saturday to reach their sixth European Cup final.

The winners in 1996, 2003 and 2005 will take on either fellow French side Biarritz or Irish province Munster, who play their semi-final on Sunday, in the May 22 final at the Stade de France.

“I’m very proud of this team. Now we have the final to play in France,” said French international fly-half David Skrela, who kicked 21 of his team’s points and scored one of their two tries.

“We deserve to be in the final. I have played in two and lost both of them. I hope it’ll be better this time.”

Leinster were 9-0 down after 30 minutes with Skrela succeeding with three penalties as the Irish pack struggled to cope with Toulouse’s forwards power.

But they went in at the interval at just 9-6 in arrears after Shaun Berne, standing in at fly-half for the injured Jonathan Sexton, kicked two late penalties, the first awarded when former All Black scrum-half Byron Kelleher was penalised.

The second penalty, on the stroke of half-time, came when hooker William Servat was punished for not releasing the ball.

Leinster, looking to match English side Leicester (2001, 2002) as the only club to win successive European titles, should have been ahead at the break.

In the 25th minute, scrum-half Eoin Reddan evaded two tackles but lost control of the ball just inches from the line in the humid Toulouse conditions.

Three minutes into the second half, the Irish were level.

Again, Kelleher was penalised for holding on and Leinster full-back Rob Kearney found the target with a penalty, hit sweetly from the halfway line.

But, buoyed by a passionate home crowd, Toulouse grabbed the first try of the semi-final after 55 minutes when centre Yannick Jauzion dashed in from close range after the three-time champions had laid siege to the Leinster line.

Skrela popped over the conversion for 16-9 before he quickly added a second try, two minutes later.

Kelleher unleashed a sharp, sweeping pass into the hands of the centre who darted in through an inviting gap between the wrong-footed Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy to score under the posts.

Skrela added the converison to stretch the French lead to 23-9.

Leinster, desperate for a lifeline, stormed back as play switched from end to end with a try in the 65th minute from No8 Jamie Heaslip.

Brian O’Driscoll’s kick ahead fell kindly for D’Arcy, who collected and pushed for the line.

After numerous attempts to barrel their way over, it was left to Isa Nacewa to spin the ball wide where Heaslip was in space to score.

Berne converted to cut the lead to 23-16 before Skrela eased the pressure with a penalty for 26-16 as the French comfortably held on for victory.