Friday 24 November 2017

Toulouse destroy Connacht as natural order is restored

Connacht 9 Toulouse 37

Connacht’s Eoin McKeon is tackled by Yoann Maestri of Toulouse during the Heineken Cup encounter at the Sportsground in Galway.
Connacht’s Eoin McKeon is tackled by Yoann Maestri of Toulouse during the Heineken Cup encounter at the Sportsground in Galway.

John O'Brien

IT would be patronising to suggest that Connacht went down fighting yesterday, that in the end they were carried out on their shields. Because that, as a minimum, is what we have come to expect of them. They welcomed the French giants they had so sensationally scalped a week previously to their modest windswept home, and gone was the element of surprise they might have used to their benefit. As it was, Toulouse were in no mood for mistakes this time around and their class saw them comfortably home.

At a certain level, the lessons you learn can be harsh ones. Connacht didn't play that badly and, like last week, they performed the basics well enough. But when a good team is as clinical and as decisive as this, the gulf in ability is laid bare all the more starkly. For all their intensity, Connacht's scores required just too much effort. Admirably, they tried to take the game to their visitors, but that left them exposed to the counter-attack and Toulouse ruthlessly punished them.

To Connacht's credit, they knew they needed a determined start to demonstrate their intent to prove that their victory at the Stade Ernest Wallon hadn't been a fluke or, perhaps even, a one-off. They didn't fluff their lines. The opening 10 minutes featured lots of aimless kicking, but Pat Lam's team were slightly the superior outfit. The game was tied at that point, a Lionel Beauxis penalty cancelling out an earlier effort from Dan Parks.

It took just one brief moment, though, to illustrate the chasm between them. It was Connacht who were doing the pressing, inching their way towards the Toulouse line, probing vainly for a decisive line-break, when possession was lost and they found themselves short on their right-flank. Although Beauxis was still inside his own half, he was still able to pick out a precise chip-through for Maxime Medard to chase and the winger made up the ground to score.

Their second try 13 minutes later wasn't a precise mirror image, but it was close enough to make little difference. Parks had just missed a long-range penalty attempt and when Beauxis claimed possession well out on his left, there didn't seem any imminent danger. This time, he kicked high and long in the direction of Medard who grabbed the ball like a wide-receiver and skipped past a weak tackle to claim his second try.

Connacht managed to maintain a tentative grip on Toulouse's coat-tails through two Parks drop-goals, but it was increasingly looking like hard labour. When the Toulouse pack cut inside the Connacht 22 four minutes from the interval, it was the first time they had built a pattern of phases deep inside home territory. This time it ended with Christopher Tolofua going over for the try.

You sensed at that point that it would take a miracle of even superior proportions than the previous week for Connacht's slim hopes of staying in the tournament to survive. They were all but crushed 14 minutes into the restart when Louis Picamoles grabbed possession just inside the Connacht 22 and was able to advance pretty much unmolested to the line. Now Lam's team had nothing left to salvage but pride.

They had some fleetingly decent moments. A stolen line-out when Toulouse were attacking menacingly near their line in the 50th minute. A turnover scrum in an equally dangerous position not long after. And when Medard looked a shoo-in to bag his hat-trick of tries on the hour, Toulouse again countering off a sustained Connacht attack, Eoin Griffin heroically dashed back to get a crucial touch on the ball before the Frenchman.

But that suggested their biggest problem. Too many of Connacht's best moments came at the wrong end of the field. The sight of Gael Fickou running in unopposed at the death was heart-rending but it reminded you of how slick and economical Toulouse were, crushing their opponents in tricky conditions without ever really breaking sweat.

Just a timely reminder, then, of the awesome team they can be. The world spun on its axis last week and, as the winter weather squalled in over the Atlantic, the natural order was brutally restored.

Scorers -- Connacht: D Parks pen, 2 d-g; Toulouse: Medard 2, Tolofua, Picamoles, Fickou tries, Beauxis 2 pens, 2 cons.

Connacht: R Henshaw; F Carr (G Duffy 64), E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks ( C Ronaldson 53, D Leader 54), K Marmion; B Wilkinson (D Buckley 50), J Harris-Wright (S Henry 50), R Ah You (JP Cooney 64); M Kearney (G Naoupu 66), C Clarke (A Browne 64); J Muldoon, J Heenan, E McKeon.

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; Y Huget, F Fritz, Y David (G Fickou 56), M Medard (H Gear 65); L Beauxis, J-M Doussain (S Bezy 70); S Ferreria (G Steenkamp 60), C Tolofua (C Ralepelle 60), C Johnston (Y Montes 60); R Millo-Chluski, Y Maestri (J Tekori 60); Y Nyanga, T Dusautoir, L Picamoles.

Referee: L Hodges (Wales)

Irish Independent

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