Thursday 21 September 2017

Doussain's magnificent seven ensures Toulouse muscle way past Saracens

Toulouse 21 Saracens 11

Toulouse's French scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain (R) is tackled by several Saracens' players
Toulouse's French scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain (R) is tackled by several Saracens' players

Mick Cleary

The beautiful game went out of fashion in these parts some time ago. Beast-ball is all the rage these days, that brand of monstrous, power-based rugby that smashes the opposition aside to leave them bruised, battered and bowed. One of England's finest, Saracens, did all they could to deal with it but even though they scored the only try in an elemental struggle there was an inevitability about the outcome.

It is seven years since an English side won the Heineken Cup. On this showing that barren spell is in little danger of coming to an end.

Toulouse were content to let the biff and the boot do the talking, with all their points coming from the boot of fly-half Jean-Marc Doussain, whose seven penalties did the job on the day and sent a timely reminder to Toulouse head coach Guy Noves that Toby Flood will not be the only kicker in town next season. Doussain is normally a scrum-half which tells you how rich the resources are at the Stade Ernest Wallon.

Toulouse go through to the quarter-finals with the likelihood of that all-important home tie if they see off Zebre. Saracens have the enormous consolation of a probable presence in the knockout stages too in this the weakest of the pools where two ought to qualify. They have to beat Connacht at Allianz Park on Saturday.

Saracens were chastened by this experience, the second time they have felt such dejection after also losing to the four-time European champions at Wembley in October.

"We died a slow death," Mark McCall, Saracens' director of rugby, said. "That was not the Saracens we know. We didn't give the best account of ourselves. We got sucked into a game that we didn't want to play and just couldn't get any momentum."

Saracens lead the Premiership by virtue of their vibrant style. They came into this match as the leading points scorers across all six groups. But even though Chris Ashton enhanced his own status as the leading try-scorer in the tournament when touching down for a simple narrow-side try after just seven minutes, it was a false portent.

That was Saracens' high point, the occasional flourish aside. Ashton himself had a torrid spell, missing one tackle on his opposite number, Hosea Gear, that almost cost his side dear.

But it was in the muscle stakes that Saracens finished a distinct second best. They missed the injured Jacques Burger but even the Namibian would have struggled to contain the French marauders. Toulouse No 8 Louis Picamoles was a man possessed. Mind you, with Thierry Dusautoir and Yannick Nyanga riding shotgun alongside, anyone could play with relish and abandon knowing they had such support. Saracens were blown away at the breakdown.

There has been real finesse as well as pace in their play this season. There was no sign of it yesterday. Their kicking game was out-of-kilter too, little surprise as they were under such pressure. Owen Farrell was under the cosh throughout. Time and again their runners tried to make progress only to be walloped backwards.

It was a surprise that Toulouse did not score more. There were several counter-attacks that looked as if they were sure to end with a try only for a blend of Saracens cussedness in defence and French fallibility to spare the scoreboard operator.

There were sublime touches from Clement Poitrenaud, one through-the-legs pass worth the admission price alone and several jinking, scooting runs from wings Yoann Huget and Gear. Full-back Maxime Medard was not exactly shabby either. Doussain knocked over his goals with regularity and aplomb, only missing one penalty pot as well as a dropped goal.

Saracens' scrum was the only positive aspect of their play. They took their try well, a routine effort down the short side after Schalk Brits had made ground initially. Farrell knocked over a couple of penalties in either half to keep his side seemingly in the hunt. In reality, there was only ever going to be one winner. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Toulouse -- M Medard; Y Huget, Y David (G Fickou 48), C Poitrenaud, H Gear; JM Doussain, J Vermaak (N Bezy 79); S Ferreira (Y Montes 60), C Ralepelle (R Millo-Chluski (60), C Johnston (G Steenkamp 60); Y Maestri (C Tolofua 60), P Albacete (J Tekori 69); Y Nyanga, T Dustautoir (Y Camara 78), L Picamoles.

Saracens -- A Goode; C Ashton, C Wyles (C Taylor 55), B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell (C Hodgson 69), N De Kock (R Wigglesworth 51); M Vunipola, S Brits (J George 71), J Johnston (M Stevens 51); S Borthwick, A Hargreaves (G Kruis 51); C Wray (E Joubert 51), K Brown, B Vunipola.

REF -- A Rolland (IRFU)

Irish Independent

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