Monday 23 October 2017

Toulouse class prevails as Westerners denied fairytale

Connacht 10 Toulouse 36

Connacht's Brian Tuohy is tackled by Yannick Jauzion of Toulouse during last night's Heineken Cup game at the Sportsground. Photo: Ray Ryan
Connacht's Brian Tuohy is tackled by Yannick Jauzion of Toulouse during last night's Heineken Cup game at the Sportsground. Photo: Ray Ryan
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The fear was that Connacht would get everything right off the pitch only to fall down in the area where it mattered most; that Toulouse would unload all their skill and nous in one package that the home team would find impossible to unravel.

In which case the potential of a fantastic night out in the Heineken Cup would turn into a lopsided game, leaving the 9,120 crowd with an empty feeling. So it goes.

At least the home support, who gave everything to their team from first to last, got to see up close one of the best club sides in the world, and drifted off into the Galway night a little wiser about why they enjoy that status.

"That was certainly a step up from anything we've experienced at the Sportsground before," captain Gavin Duffy said afterwards. "We didn't defend to the highest standard we managed in the last couple of weeks but I think that was down to them as well. They had such pace and power out wide that it felt relentless at times."

Despite the hammering, Duffy was happy to have tasted club rugby at this level. The more they are exposed to it the better they will get, but there will be pain along the way. Hopefully the crowd that rocked the place last night are in for the long haul.

Toulouse could have gone down the conservative route here, and smothered the game and the crowd in a gradual pincer move that would have sucked the life out of the home team. Or they could have gone straight for a higher gear and see if they could do damage by getting width on the ball from deep and dragging Connacht around the place.

The weather conditions didn't just open the door to the more attractive road, they positively encouraged it. It was as benign a night as we've seen in Galway: calm and dry and mild. So they opted for the scenic route.

Of course, it required a few key criteria, the most important of which was a good start. That would offer up the prospect of more possession off the restarts, and if Connacht went long with these, and kept three defenders back to cover off any clearing kick, then Toulouse had exactly what they wanted to attack again from deep.

The next criterion was skill. If you are one of those who doesn't appreciate the difference between putting the ball out in front of a receiver and passing it at him, then watch the video of this game. Toulouse made it look effortless, running plays out the back and -- critically -- placing the ball perfectly for the receiver to take it at pace.

When Connacht tried to respond in kind they found themselves doing it in different circumstances: Toulouse applied more bodies to their defensive line, and Connacht struggled to get right the basic skill of getting the ball in front of the man.

There were other important things going on, like a powerhouse French scrum which could put unbearable heat on Connacht when needs demanded. And the experience that comes from being standard bearers in this competition. They played referee Greg Garner perfectly, messing around at the scrum when they wanted to disrupt, and generally doing what they wanted. All in all there was no area of the game where they were in trouble, save for leaving tries behind. Their only bad news was the loss in the second half, with a dislocated shoulder, of replacement Romain Millo-Chluski.

Connacht brought admirable physicality to the tackle, but when you're chasing your tail trying to make those tackles you can't keep that going for too long.

In order to sustain this Toulouse needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over, and man of the match Lionel Beauxis kept up his end of the bargain with a flawless kicking display. Nine points -- two penalties either side of a drop goal -- established them nicely by the 15th minute, and on 22 minutes a try from flanker Jean Bouilhou cemented their position.

By the break the score had stretched to 22-3 -- Miah Nikora picked off a penalty for the home team -- by which time Connacht had been forced to trade with 14 men for 10 minutes after Mike McCarthy was binned for a high tackle on Vincent Clerc.

The gap opened wider just seven minutes into the second half when a brief scrum series turned into a penalty try. The roof nearly came off the Clan Stand when Connacht returned the compliment, but Toulouse finished things off with a try for Yannick Nyanga. Good to watch, just not what had been planned.

Connacht: G Duffy (capt); B Tuohy, E Griffin, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; M Nikora, P O'Donohoe (F Murphy 52); B Wilkinson, A Flavin (E Reynecke 50, yc 76), R Ah You (D Rogers 50), M Swift, D Gannon (R Ofisa 54), M McCarthy (yc 29-39), G Naoupu, J Muldoon (TJ Anderson 64; A Flavin 76).

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (L McAllister 51); M Medard, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, V Clerc; l Beauxis, L Burgess (N Vergallo 62); Y Montes (JB Poux 69), W Servat (G Botha 51), C Johnston (J Falefa 51), G Lamboley, Y Maestri (R Millo-Chluski 56; Y Nyanga 68), J Bouilhou (capt), L Picamoles (G Gallan 60), T Dusatoir.

Referee: G Garner (Eng)

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