Thursday 23 January 2020

Connacht draw a blank at the Sportsground as Toulouse march towards home quarter-final

Connacht 7 Toulouse 21

Toulouse edged towards a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup after a 21-7 win over Connacht at the Sportsground. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Toulouse edged towards a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup after a 21-7 win over Connacht at the Sportsground. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Seemingly there was a heavily pregnant pause in Galway on Friday afternoon after the Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund was confirmed to have a bounty of €10m towards the new Sportsground

It ended with the Government announcement later in the day that they would be lobbing in another €10m. In the gap there was much restlessness among the natives, for the stadium plan would have been a non-starter if part one had not been followed by part two. Phone calls were made.

For the players, the affair was a two-parter as well. In the first, in round two, they had been very long odds on keeping things respectable in the south of France, yet were leading going into the final quarter. And in the second, here in the Sportsground, they needed to kick on from that. Instead, they drew a blank.

With the howling wind and intermittent rain blowing into the College Road end, the home team had first use of it. Over the course of the 40 minutes that usage was modest. It’s not easy to play an offloading game in filthy weather but Toulouse made a decent fist of it, so much so that both possession and territory stats were comfortably above 70 per cent by the break.

Already deep frustration had set in among the home supporters. The highlight for them had been a penalty try early in the game after Connacht had set up camp in the Toulouse corner. The bonus was a yellow card for Joe Tekori, blamed for trying to stop the maul illegally. Toulouse coped.

They were helped in that by Connacht losing Colby Fainga’a on a card of the same colour for a no-arms high shot on Sofiane Guitoune. When you hear the home fans urging the ref to give yellow you know he was perilously close to getting red. That would have ended the game there and then. Within a minute of Fainga’a going off, Toulouse had levelled the game.

Bundee Aki conceded a penalty initially to allow Toulouse go to the corner, where they worked a quickie at the front. Some grunt followed and ref Luke Pearce went upstairs on a tough call as Jerome Kaino attacked short. Try. And trouble for the home team.

From there the French side looked altogether happier despite the conditions. They were still able to retain the ball with enough tip-ons and carries to keep Connacht in defensive mode. Largely that defence was good but they would have fallen further behind if Florian Verhaeghe had held the ball that bounced up after a block on Matt Healy taking too long to clear his lines.

Still, Toulouse had their tails up and turned 7-7 into 14-7 just before the half-time whistle when a small army of red shirts drove over the Connacht line from a lineout maul. Again, Thomas Ramos added the extras. And Connacht, who had just lost Ultan Dillane, were looking at a very steep climb after the break.

It hadn’t levelled out any by six minutes into the second period when Pita Ahki got over after Antoine Dupont blocked Jack Carty, in much the same way Healy had been caught earlier. It was fitting that Dupont should have been the man to create the opportunity for he had given Connacht trouble off the breakdown all day.

Just when we thought the only business to be concluded was the bonus point for the away team, Carty did really well to put Paul Boyle away in midfield. The back-rower made it to within 10m of the Toulouse line before being hauled down. Arthur Bonneval was blessed not to be done for coming in at the side of the tackle. Had Connacht been playing that last quarter against 14, it would have been more interesting – especially if they had taken points on the spot.

They didn’t get anything out of it. They bashed away close in – strangely working their way wide of the goalposts, until eventually shifting the ball wide and being done at a tackle that turned into a maul. You could feel the relief rising off the Toulouse bench.

Eventually, they were reduced to 14 when replacement Yoann Huget was yellow-carded for upending Tiernan O’Halloran, and then Zack Holmes followed a minute later for a high tackle, also on O’Halloran. To be down to 13 men should have spread panic in red but the key was that still Connacht couldn’t score. Nor indeed could they scrummage at that point, being shunted off two put-ins in the last few minutes. In the circumstances, not a good look.

Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun (J Porch 69) B Aki, T Daly, M Healy; J Carty (D Horwitz 76), S Kerins (C Blade 46); P McAllister (D Buckley 57), T McCartney (D Heffernan 46), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 53), U Dillane (J Maksymiw ht), G Thornbury, P Boyle (E McKeon 63), J Butler (capt), C Fainga’a (yc16-26)

Toulouse: T Ramos; A Bonneval (Y Huget 64; yc 73)), S Guitoune, P Ahki (R Ntamack 77), C Kolbe; Z Holmes (yc 74), A Dupont (S Bezy 64); C Castets (R Neti 51), J Marchand (P Mauvaka 51), C Faumuina (D Aldegheri 51), F Vertaeghe (R Arnold 64), J Tekori (11-21), R Elstadt, S Tolofua (A Placines 69), J Kaino (capt)

Referee: L Pearce (England)

Connacht: 7 (Pen try)
Toulouse: 21 (P Ahki, J Kaino, J Marchand try each; J Ramos 3 cons)

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