Connacht 10-36 Toulouse
19th November @ The Sports Ground
Connacht’s performance failed to live up to the occasion at The Sports Ground on Saturday was they went down to a star-studded Toulouse side. The western province did put up a valiant fight and their second half performance, where they held Toulouse scoreless until the dying minutes, was an improvement on the opening half. Eric Elwood’s side did well to deny Toulouse the try-scoring bonus point and even managed a try of their own in the second period.
With a full house of 9,120 watching on, including recently elected President Michael D. Higgins, Toulouse made an impressive start to the match which marked Connacht’s 100th tie in European rugby. Outhalf Lionel Beauxis opened the scoring with a penalty after 5 minutes. Toulouse looked to run the ball from deep at every opportunity and Maxime Medard in particular looked threatening with several breaks down the left wing.
Beauxis doubled the lead for Toulouse with a beautiful drop goal from just inside the Connacht half. The 15-times capped French international then slotted a second penalty after another menacing Medard incursion into the Connacht half. Connacht’s defence in this opening period was not matching the aggressiveness they had brought to Harlequins the weekend before. Too many times, the defensive line stood off Toulouse, allowing the French side time on the ball to create the openings that were beginning to cut Connacht apart.
The Toulouse pack turned up the pressure after Connacht put-in to a scrum under their own posts. No. 8 Louis Picamoles managed to pick the ball from under Paul O’Donohoe and he fed Thierry Dusautoir. The IRB Player of The Year was hauled down just short of the try-line by O’Donohoe but blindside Jean Bouilhou snuck the ball over from the breakdown. Beauxis tapped over the easy conversion.
At 16-0 down after only a quarter of the match, Connacht needed to give the home crowd something positive to get behind. Captain Gavin Duffy led by example, claiming the drop-off. David McSharry broke through the Toulouse defence and hit his centre partner Eoin Griffin who made further ground. Toulouse conceded the penalty and Connacht went for the corner, the crowd back to full volume. John Muldoon launched himself at Toulouse from the line-out maul, but his teammates were slow to the breakdown and Dusautoir stole the ball. Luke Burgess broke away and kicked cross-field to Clement Poitrenaud. Fortunately for Connacht the ball bounced into touch.
Mike McCarthy was correctly sent to the bin for a high tackle on Vincent Clerc soon after and this seemed to signal the end of any hope of a comeback for the Western province. The Toulouse forwards once again dominated the Connacht scrum, winning a penalty under the posts which Beauxis slotted. Connacht once again put great pressure onto their drop off, forcing Yannick Jauzion into dropping the ball. Picamoles was then penalised for tackling O’Donohoe off the ball and Mia Nikora put Connacht on the scoreboard for the first time.
After yet another penalty against the Connacht scrum, Toulouse finished the half with another 3 points from Beauxis to lead 22-3. Toulouse had cut the Connacht defence apart on many occasions but only scored the one try as the final pass often didn’t go to hand. The second half began in similar fashion as Toulouse threatened to cut loose. McSharry halted one attack with a huge hit on Beauxis and then minutes later, the Toulouse flyhalf knocked on with the line at his mercy. Finally, Toulouse got the score their dominance deserved when they were awarded a penalty try, a harsh call by referee Greg Garner after only one wheeled scrum. Beauxis converted.
As Toulouse took their foot off the pedal, Connacht gradually got themselves back into the game. They enjoyed a prolonged spell of possession and good field position, as they looked more threatening with the ball. McCarthy knocked on with the try line beckoning but Connacht kept plugging away and were rewarded with a penalty try of their own after they finally got to grips with the Toulouse scrum. It was a well deserved try for Connacht and crowd at the Sports Ground enjoyed the moment thoroughly. Nikora added the conversion.
Any hopes of a late revival for Connacht were extinguished as replacement hooker Ethienne Reynecke was yellow carded for taking Luke McAlister out as the New Zealander chased his own kick. Replacement flanker Yannick Nyanga touched down for Toulouse’s third try with three minutes left. Beauxis added the conversion to take his points haul to 21. The three-time champions were onto the scent of a bonus-point fourth try but they had left it too late and Connacht repelled the final attack.
Photos courtesy: Pierre-Selim