Toulouse 24 Connacht 3
A spirited Connacht side made Toulouse battle all the way before the reigning French champions eventually sealed a bonus-point Heineken Cup win.
It may have been Connacht’s 14th successive defeat but they will take a lot of encouragement from this display at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
The Connacht scrum was in all sorts of trouble in the opening half and that undid a lot of great work with Toulouse getting half of their eight first-half penalties on their own scrum.
But it was obvious from the outset that Eric Elwood’s men were going to make the French battle for it and they should have hit the front after just five minutes. However, the kicking frailties which have hindered Connacht all season were once again evident as Niall O’Connor hit the left-hand post from a straightforward 25-metre attempt.
O’Connor gave Connacht a surprise lead after 15 minutes when he landed a penalty from 40 metres. The score followed a late tackle by Thierry Dusautoir on Tiernan O’Halloran which led to a dust-up in midfield.
Toulouse only got into the Connacht 22 twice in the opening half but they scored two tries off these forays and it took a superb tackle by a fired-up Ray Ofisa on Luke McAlister to prevent what seemed an inevitable try.
Nevertheless, Toulouse hit the front at the end of the opening quarter. They put in a superb drive off a line-out on the right, and the attack finished with Fiji Sevens international Timoci Matanavou touching down Maxime Medard’s grubber kick.
McAlister missed the conversion but created the second try for Medard with a pinpoint cross-field kick after Medard had made a fine break.
In between, Connacht countered well but the closest they came to scoring was when Dave McSharry went inside and got smothered with his captain Gavin Duffy cutting a good line outside him.
That left it 10-3 at the break but Toulouse turned the screw after the restart with 20-stone Samoan tighthead Census Johnston leading the charge.
They pounded the Connacht line for several minutes early on in the second half. The pressure finally told with number eight Louis Picamoles getting their third try with a tap and go after another infringement by the visiting pack.
Lionel Beauxis, who replaced Florian Fritz at the break, added the conversion from the right to make it 17-3. But Connacht hit back with O’Halloran superb on the left wing and they again took the game to Toulouse.
The home crowd started getting frustrated when it seemed that they would not get a bonus point, but 10 minutes from time Matanavou got in for his second try down the left.
Beauxis again added the difficult conversion to put further daylight between them but it was Connacht who finished the game on the offensive.
The Westerners will now hope to wrap up their maiden season in the Heineken Cup by defeating Harlequins next Friday in Galway, and they will go into that clash with plenty of confidence after this gutsy display.