Monday 19 March 2018

Connacht's courage under fire

The shock of the century was never going to happen but for the opening quarter at Stade Ernest Wallon, the largest Connacht following for an overseas match dreamed.

The 800 or so who travelled did so more in hope than anything else but their trip to the aristocrats of European rugby was made all the more enjoyable as Connacht took a shock -- and deserved lead -- against the French champions. Eventually, the power and class of Toulouse got on top but the home side were getting frustrated by the time they wrapped up the bonus point 10 minutes from time.

Connacht can take great heart from this display, a performance a million miles away from a side slumping to their 14th consecutive loss.

Toulouse got on top in the scrum and that undid a lot of Connacht's good work, with the French getting half of their eight first-half penalties on their own scrum. But Eric Elwood's men were going to make the French battle for it and they should have hit the front after just five minutes, but the kicking frailties which have hindered Connacht all season were once again evident as Niall O'Connor hit the left post from a straight-forward kick from 25 metres.

However, he gave Connacht a surprise lead after 15 minutes when he landed a penalty from 40 metres. Toulouse got into the Connacht '22' only twice in the opening half but scored two tries as a result, and it took a superb tackle by a fired-up Ray Ofisa on Luke McAlister to prevent what seemed an inevitable try.

But Toulouse hit the front at the end of the opening quarter with a superb drive off a lineout on the right and it finished with Timoci Matanavou touching down Maxime Medard's grubber. McAlister missed the conversion but created the second try for Medard with a pinpoint crossfield kick.

Connacht countered well and got close to scoring when Dave McSharry went inside and got smothered, with Gavin Duffy cutting a good line outside him. That left it 10-3 at the break, but Toulouse turned the screw after the restart with Samoan tighthead Census Johnston leading the charge.

They pounded the Connacht line for several minutes after the restart and the pressure finally told with Louis Picamoles getting their third try with a tap and go after another infringement by the visiting pack.

Lionel Beauxis, who replaced Florian Fritz at the break, added the conversion from the right to make it 17-3.

But Connacht hit back with Tiernan O'Halloran superb on the left wing and they again took the game to Toulouse.

The home crowd started getting frustrated when it seemed that they would not get a bonus point, but they broke 10 minutes from time for Matanavou to get in for his second try down the left.

Beauxis again added the difficult conversion.

Toulouse: M Medard; V Clerc, Y David (C Poitrenaud 60), F Fritz (L Beauxis 40), T Matanavou; L McAlister, L Burgess (J-M Doussain 70); G Steenkamp (D Human, 64), W Servat (C Tolofua 65), C Johnston; Y Maestri (G Lamboley 60), P Albacete; J Bouilhou (S Sowerby 67), T Dusautoir, L Picamoles.

Connacht: G Duffy; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry (H Fa'afili 61), T O'Halloran; N O'Connor (M Nikora 67), P O'Donohoe (D Moore 67); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 74), A Flavin (E Reynecke 61), D Rogers (S Maguire 48); M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu (E McKeon 74)

Referee: W Barnes (England)

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