No surprises then that Toulouse won, but the fears of a whitewash were doused by a fiery Connacht who fought to the end.
Toulouse, the giants of European rugby, did what they needed to do. They bagged their four tries, stretching their lead in pool six to 18 points, two ahead of Harlequins, but this was not the hammering many predicted. It was a more mature, tactically astute, and committed display that heartened the 600 Connacht supporters who made their presence felt and heard in Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday.
“We knew we had to step it up on this big stage,” said Elwood.
“But yes, I was fearful, but only if we did not have our game head on to understand how big this game was.
“Yes, it was a great performance. Yes, we went the full 80 against the best team in Europe, but I am not happy we lost because we felt, rightly or wrongly, that we had an opportunity tonight, particularly going in at half-time. I told the players afterwards that I was proud of them and I thought the people who came here were proud of them. That’s is what we wanted because we knew we were up against it.
“The key for us now is to do it next week. Away from home, we have been excellent. We just have to finish our Heineken Cup as best we can at home and go into the break with a win.”
Connacht kept the 18,508 Toulouse supporters quiet for long periods as the French champions were limited to a 10-3 half-time lead. Had Connacht converted their chances, it would have been considerably closer. Outhalf Niall O’Connor’s opening penalty kick hit the upright, while an attacking overlap was also passed up when centre David McSharry went alone, with Gavin Duffy clear outside him.
Defensively, Connacht had to be on top of their game and were not found wanting — epitomised by a thumping Ray Ofisa effort minutes before fullback and man of the match Maxime Medard crossed for the home side’s second try. Earlier Medard had chipped through for Timoci Matanovou’s opening try in the 20th minute.
But Tiernan O’Halloran and Fetu Vainikolo were lively and penetrating on the wings. Vainikolo was instrumental in setting up Connacht’s first chance from inside his 22, and his run, chip and chase should have led to a score.
However the Toulouse scrum dictated this result. Their front five simply had too much power and class for Connacht and five penalties put the visitors on the back foot.
The pressure told early in the second half when number eight Louis Picamoles grabbed Toulouse’s third try after 46 minutes. It was only a matter of time before Luke Burgess burst through from a quick tap to set up the left winger for the bonus point.
TOULOUSE: M Medard, V Clerc, Y David, F Fritz, T Matanavou, L McAlister, L Burgess; G Steenkamp, W Servat, C Johnston, Y Maestri, P Albacete, J Bouilhou, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles.
Replacements: L Beauxis for Fritz (ht), C Poitrenaud for David (60), G Lamboley for Maestri (60), D Human for Steenkamp (64), C Tolafua for Servat (66), S Sowerby for Bouilhou (68), J Doussain for Burgess (69).
CONNACHT: G Duffy (capt), F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O’Halloran, N O’Connor, P O’Donoghue; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, D Rogers, M Swft, M McCarthy, J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu.
Replacements: E Reynecke for Flavin (61), S Maguire for Rogers (47), H Fa’afili for McSharry (61), D Moore for O’Donohoe (67), M Nikora for O’Connor (67), M Kearney for Muldoon (69), E McKeon for Naoupu (74), D Buckley for Wilkinson (75).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).