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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 4 April, 2020
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Dominant Toulouse crush Connacht's Champions Cup hope

Toulouse sealed their qualification and conceded just a penalty try despite finishing with 13 men.

Connacht 7

Toulouse 21

TOULOUSE ROLLED IN and out of the Sportsground like a tank, trundling and crushing the thin sliver of hope that Connacht could keep some quarter-final hope alive while sealing their place in the last eight.

The western province have limped through this European run with untimely injuries and patchy form taking the wind from their sails. But they weren’t found wanting for huffing and puffing against the aristocrats of European rugby. An early onslaught from the pack yielded a penalty try to lead and there were moments of absolute magic from Jack Carty’s left foot, right foot and hands to at least land a few dents and dings on the tank before it departed.

cheslin-kolbe-with-tom-daly Tom Daly collides with Cheslin Kolbe. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

Ultimately though, the hosts could only buckle under the intense pressure from a Toulouse pack in a whole different weight class.

The four-time champions ought to kick themselves for not collecting a bonus point to adorn their healthy 22-point haul in the race for the knockouts. Instead, after tries from the brilliant Julien Marchand, Jerome Kaino and Pita Ahki, they eased too far off the pedal with the game settled. And wound up seeing out the game with 13 men after a red card for Zach Holmes followed a yellow for Yoann Huget.

From the very start, Toulouse were treated to all the delights of winter rugby in Galway.

Connacht tore angrily in to every contact and batted back the early shove from the Top14 giants. Carty charged down a lazy Holmes kick in midfield and Niyi Adeolokun was unfortunate that it was Cheslin Kolbe on duty to sweep up behind, the Springbok World Cup winner put enough pressure on to thwart the wing. The position was enough encouragement for Andy Friend’s side, though, and with Paddy McAllister and Gavin Thornbury at the the forefront they chiselled out a string of penalties.

Carty used the advantage of one of them to give Thomas Ramos a scare with a sublime cross-field kick towards Matt Healy that needed two juggling touches from the France fullback before referee Luke Pearce went back for the penalty.

connacht-are-awarded-a-penalty-try-by-luke-pearce Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The breakthrough for the hosts came with nine minutes on the board, a penalty try awarded for another collapsed maul and Joe Tekori was sin-binned before the game restarted.

France-bound Colby Fainga’a was soon sidelined with him, however, the openside taking a deserved yellow for a high hit as Ramos twisted through Paul Boyle’s initial tackle.

The French side showed all their nous to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, picking and choosing rare moments to show their smooth offloading game between effective efforts to slow the game to a crawl through the power game.

With the penalty count rising against the home side and seven forwards apiece going head-on, Toulouse found their levelling score on 20 minutes thanks to a close-range drive from Kaino.

With Tekori back on, Toulouse had the screw turning, but were content to do so slowly and methodically in the hope that Connacht would cough up the opportunities needed.

It almost worked out that way on 25 minutes when Carty was charged down in his own 22 by Florian Verhaeghe, but as the lock bore down on the try-line he spilled.

It was a let-off for the hosts, but the 8,129 crammed into the Sportsground had to wait five minutes before celebrating a defensive victory. After a robust stand to keep the red wave from pouring over the line, Tiernan O’Halloran came up with a superb jackal and won a breakdown penalty to bring about massive relief.

Between that skirmish win and a flash of utter brilliance from Carty as he effortlessly chipped an awkwardly bouncing ball up into his hands, belief was allowed to swell belief in the home faithful.

Briefly at least.

pita-ahki-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-antoine-dupont Ahki celebrates Toulouse's third. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The turning point came for the visitors three minutes before half-time, after Carty’s flash of genius. Arthur Bonneval used the minimal space on the right flank to maximum effect, chipping and chasing beyond Matt Healy. O’Halloran raced over to cover, but wound up spilling the ball over the touchline.

From the resulting line-out, with the home pack feeling the fatigue of a half that lasted fully 52 minutes, Toulouse forced their way over the line and Marchand dotted down to ring up a 7-14 score at halfway.

With the wind at their backs, the manky showers of rain passed and so much of the hard work done, Toulouse looked far more comfortable kicking off the second half.

And when Antoine Dupont flew in to charge down Carty behind the Connacht try-line, there would be no letting the hosts off the hook as ex-Westerner Pita Ahki was on hand to touch down.

The game lost shape as replacements rolled on. And despite conditions becoming settled, Toulouse persisted with their wet weather tactics.

Friend’s men never quite know when a game is done and dusted. And so their attacking pressure, sparked by a brilliant pass from Carty to set Paul Boyle away, put the heat on the visitors’ defence and they had their own creaks when Huget – on as a replacement for a matter of minutes – became pantomime villain after picking up a yellow for a tip tackle on O’Halloran.

The Galway man came in for further punishment a minute later when Holmes connected with a high hit to earn a red and leave Connacht facing 13 men for the remainder. But the damage had been done, and there was to be no dramatic late flurry against a team of this calibre.

Scorers

Connacht

Tries: Penalty Try

 

Toulouse

Tries: J Kaino, J Marchand, P Ahki

Conversions: T Ramos (3/3)

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun (John Porch ’67), Bundee Aki, Tom Daly, Matt Healy, Jack Carty (David Horwitz , Stephen Kerins (Caolin Blade ’46); Paddy McAllister (Denis Buckley ’55), Tom McCartney (Dave Heffernan ’46) Finlay Bealham (Dominic Robertson-McCoy ’52); Ultan Dillane (Joe Maksymiw ’40), Gavin Thornbury, Paul Boyle (Eoin McKeon ’62), Colby Fainga’a , Jarrad Butler.

Toulouse:  Thomas Ramos,  Arthur Bonneval (Yoann Huget ’62), Sofiane Guitoune, Pita Ahki (Romain Ntamack ’76), Cheslin Kolbe, Zack Holmes,  Antoine Dupont (Sébastien Bézy ’62); Clément Castets (Rodrigue Neti ’50), Julien Marchand (Peato Mauvaka ’50), Charlie Faumuina (Dorian Aldegheri ’50), Florian Verhaeghe (Rory Arnold’62), Joe Tekori, Rynhardt Elstadt, Jerome Kaino, Selevasio Tolofua (Alban Placines ’67)

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About the author:

Sean Farrell  / Reports from The Sportsground.

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