Stunned Toulouse reject suggestion they under-estimated Connacht challenge
‘They put us under pressure constantly’ says fullback Clément Poitrenaud
Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir with his pack during the Heineken Cup defeat to Connacht. Photograph: Remy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images.
Sunday’s defeat to Connacht was, according to Guy Novès, Toulouse’s responsibility. In over 20 years in charge, the French side’s head coach has rarely been on the end of such a shock loss. Sure, there was Llanelli in 2006 and a similar high-scoring loss to Glasgow in 2009.
But since then they have been crowned European champions for a fourth time and their budget has continued to grow.
Apart from Toulon, who they beat nonetheless, this season Toulouse had brushed aside all visitors to the Stade Ernest Wallon by at least 10 points.
As Novès put it then, losing to the bottom team in the Pro12 was definitely not part of the script. “We thought we would win,” the 59-year-old said. “Although that’s not to say that we looked down on our opponents.
“The start of the match made us hopeful of scoring tries and progressing. But we missed more and more chances, time passed, and we definitely began to lose our heads . . . we didn’t play the rugby that was required against this Connacht team.
“Strategically we weren’t able to adapt to their very quick repositioning in defence. And then we coughed up a huge amount of possession . . . there wasn’t enough alternation in our game.”
Before they met Connacht two years ago, Novès recalled how his side had put 100 points on Ebbw Vale in 1998, only to lose against the same opposition in Wales two months later.
That reverse had taught him never to underestimate his opposition and, on the face of it, the signs are that the 19-time French champions did appreciate how dangerous Connacht could be.
Jean Baptiste Élissalde, now part of the coaching staff, warned beforehand that Pat Lam’s team were much stronger than when the sides had last met. According to Toulouse fullback Clément Poitrenaud, the former French scrumhalf’s comments were not simply for public consumption.
“We knew it would be difficult,” Poitrenaud admitted. “It’s not for lack of saying and repeating it throughout the week, notably Jean-Baptiste, who gave us ample warning.
“It’s not a question of commitment but more of intellect and control. Sometimes wanting to play rugby too much against an organised team, you lose yourself, and that’s what happened.
“Kicking should be a weapon like any other and we didn’t do it enough, or appropriately enough anyway, unlike them.
“They put us under pressure constantly. It’s a lesson we have to take on board, and quickly too, because we’re meeting them again next week.”
Ahead of this season, Novès had called on his international players to play to their ability and reminded them of the obligations they have at club level.
The squad seemed to answer his call to arms with victory over Saracens at Wembley but everything is suddenly up in the air again.
“This disappointment completely calls into question our win against Saracens,” he said.
“Now we have to manage the trip to Ireland. But at least we’ve been warned and we know that it will be extremely difficult.
After having last week off, internationals like Patricio Albacete, Josefa Tekori, Yannick Nyanga and Maxime Médard will return to the squad. It will then be up to the players, according to Thierry Dusautoir, to prove how much Sunday’s defeat hurt.