Connacht wilt as Toulouse turn screw

THERE is a bit of a way to go yet for Connacht, who suffered stage-fright in the face of high-quality opposition at Saturday night’s historic Heineken Cup clash at the Sportsground.

Toulouse admitted they had done their homework following westerner’s brave bid to scuttle Harlequins on the road last week and they applied the lessons brilliantly to silence the enthusiastic but appreciative crowd of 9,100.

One seldom sees a French side taking away fixtures so seriously, but from kick off Connacht were left in no doubt of the serious intent of Toulouse’s mission. By the half-way stage it was a damage limitation exercise.

It didn’t help that English referee Greg Garner made three decisions that ultimately cost Connacht points. It didn’t help the game either that he awarded two soft penalty tries; one for each side. But in Connacht’s case it was one of the few breaks they got all evening.

It gave them something to cling to and it helped provide an exciting, albeit inevitable, finish. Connacht and their raucous fans deserved that from a game that never really fell their way against a ruthlessly efficient Tuolouse outfit, for whom Lionel Beauxis was superb and well worth his man of the match status.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood could only sit back and admire the absolute professionalism of a club that has contributed hugely to the success of this competition.

“We made mistakes, yes, but the reason we made those errors [in part] was that we were up against a quality team,” he said.

“They were relentless in their pressure on us, they didn’t miss a tackle, their work at the breakdown was immense. We knew we had to step our game up another level. We saw last week that we weren’t good enough, but here we ended up playing the mighty Toulouse.

“There was some good work, some good individual stuff, good passages of play at times but I would have liked if we had started from the beginning of the game. We knew who we were playing, we gave them the respect they were due but we should have said ‘lets go for it’.

“In the second half we dug in there; if they hadn’t got that last try we would have won the second half on the scoreboard, so even little challenges like that are important to us. I know, though, there are bigger challenges, we have to go there, we have to go to Gloucester and so on, but we will cross those bridges when they come.”

It all started so badly for Connacht as they conceded early scores, two penalties and a drop goal to Beauxis, not to mention a silly try to Jean Bouilhou, converted by the out half, to give the visitors a resounding 16-point lead.

It hurt too when Connacht coughed up possession on the Toulouse line and when Mike McCarthy was yellow carded for a high tackle on Vincent Clerc after 28 minutes. Beauxis kicked another penalty before Miah Nikora finally raised the roof with a 34th minute penalty.

But Connacht remained under the cosh. Most of their problems came down to lack of targeting in the middle of the field and anytime Toulouse changed the direction, the home team appeared to be in trouble.

It was a costly learning curve as the four-time champions cruised into a 22-3 half-time lead, with Beauxis knocking over a penalty late on to push his personal contribution out to 17 points.

It didn’t get much better after the interval for Connacht, although Beauxis did them a favour by dropping the ball with the line at his mercy four minutes in. That was just seconds before referee Garner awarded a penalty try and Beauxis converted to give the visitors an unassailable 29-3 advantage.

Connacht grabbed their opportunity with a powerful scrum and the penalty try that Nikora converted, but Toulouse struck back at the death with a try from substitute Yannick Nyanga that Beauxis converted.

Scorers for Connacht: Try: Penalty. Con: Nikora. Pen: Nikora.

Scorers for Toulouse: Tries: Bouilhou, Nyanga, Penalty. Con: Beauxis (three). Pen: Beauxis (four). Drop: Beauxis.

CONNACHT: G Duffy (capt), E Griffin, D McSharry, T O’Halloran, M Nikora, P O’Donohue, B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Ah You, M Swift, D Gannon, M McCarthy, G Naoupu, J Muldoon.

Replacements: W Reynecke for Flavin (49), D Rogers for Ah You (49), R Ofisa for Gannon (51), F Murphy for O’Donohue (51), R Loughney for Wilkinson (63), TJ Anderson for Muldoon (63), H Fa’afili for Griffin (66).

TOULOUSE: C Poitrenaud, M Medard, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, V Clerc, L Beauxis, L Burgess; Y Montes, W Servat, C Johnston, G Lamboley, Y Maestri, J Bouihou (capt), L Picamoles, T Dusautoir.

Replacements: G Botha for Servat (49), J Falefa for Johnson (49), L McAllister for Fritz (49), R Millo-Chluski for Maestri (55), N Vergallo for Picamoles (60), N Vergallo for Burgess (62), Y Nyanga for Millo-Chluski (inj. 67), J Baptiste Poux for Montes (68).

Referee: G Garner (England).

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