Toulouse get it right against Connacht

French side record their first bonus point in four attempts over Connacht

Connacht’s Fionn Carr tackles Louis Picamoles of Toulouse. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht’s Fionn Carr tackles Louis Picamoles of Toulouse. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Sat, Dec 14, 2013, 20:33

Connacht 9 Toulouse 37

A week can be a long time in rugby too and Connacht’s extraordinary achievement in toppling the four-time Heineken Cup winners on their own patch was perhaps put in even sharper perspective by this result. Much more direct and focussed than last week, Toulouse recorded their first bonus point in four attempts over Connacht.

Although a foreboding day in the west gave way to a relatively calm evening, it still had that feeling come kick-off. Not alone had Guy Noves reverted to a more recognisably Toulouse side, featuring 13 French players of whom all but were internationals, but replacements Nathan White and Frank Murphy were both ruled out due to the flu virus that had swept through their camp, and with Paul O’Donohoe also laid low, it meant that there was no specialist cover at scrumhalf for Kieron Marmion, who himself had been on a drip in hospital during the week, yet to his credit not only played the full 80, but played very well again.

It would have been difficult enough to scale the heights of last week again even at full health, but even before they wilted Toulouse bossed the collisions to such an extent that there was simply no avoiding the pain for Connacht. Playing direct, no frills rugby and using Lionel Beauxis’ boot to good effect, Louis Picamoles had his chums made plenty of straight carries and also pushed up harder than last week in defence to stop Connacht runners unceremoniously in their tracks no matter whether Connacht went wide, up the middle or closer in.

Generally, they went back and across the field and, after an early exchange of penalties by Dan Parks and Beauxis, Toulouse drew the first meaningful blood off just such a passage of play when Picamoles moved turnover ball in midfield and Clemont Poitrenaud kicked through for Maxime Medard, restored after being given a week’s holidays last week, to score.

Back came Connacht, and with a penalty advantage Parks landed a crop goal only for Medard to score again off a cross kick by Beauxis in behind Fionn Carr, who was up in the defensive line, and with Robbie Henshaw having plenty of ground to cover; either the product of some homework or clever heads-up rugby.

Back came Connacht again, twice going to the corner for their maul, and Craig Clarke was within two metre of the line before Parks settled for another drop goal. But Clarke couldn’t gather another perfectly placed hanging restart by Beauxis from which Yann David made inroads with a switch off a scrum, and Toulouse carried hard through the phases for Christopher Tolofua to pick up and score after Picamoles had almost scored.

That left it 22-9 at the break and nearing the end of a competitive third quarter, Craig Ronaldson appeared to damage his hamstring with his first kick after replacing Parks, leaving young Galwegians utility back Darragh Leader to come in at out-half. What’s more, Leighton Hodges let play continue while Ronaldson was being treated, Picamoles scoring off a short line-out variation at the front which caught Connacht cold.

Connacht kept throwing it about gamely, and the dancing footwork of Matt Healy and Fionn Carr made more productive inroads, but Beauxis landed another penalty and Gael Fickou had the final say when using his brilliant footwork and pace to score from half-way.

Scoring sequence: 3 mins Parks pen 3-0; 5 mins Beauxis pen 3-3; 12 mins Medard try, Beauxis con 3-10; 14 mins Parks drop goal 6-10; 27 mins Medard try 6-15; 33 mins Parks drop goal 9-15; 37 mins Tolofua try, Beauxis con 9-22; (half-time 9-22); 55 mins Picamoles try 9-27; 73 mins Beauxis pen 9-30; 79 mins Fickou try, Beauxis con 9-37.

CONNACHT: R Henshaw; F Carr, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris Wright, R Ah You, M Kearney, C Clarke (capt), J Muldoon, J Heenan, E McKeon. Replacements: JP Cooney for Ah You (14-17 and 61 mins), S Henry for Harris-Wright, D Buckley for Wilkinson (52 mins), C Ronaldson for Parks (53 mins), D Leader for Ronaldson (55 mins), A Browne for Clarke (61 mins), G Duffy for McSharry (63 mins), G Naoupu for Kearney (67 mins).
TOULOUSE: C¨ Poitrenaud; Y Huget, F Fritz, Y David, M Médard; L Beauxis, JM Doussain; S Ferreira, C Tolofua, C Johnston, R Millo-Chluski, Y Maestri, Y Nyanga, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles. Replacements: G Fickou for David (56 mins), C Ralepelle for Tolofua, G Steenkamp for Ferreira, Y Montes for Johnston, J Tekori for Maestri (all 61 mins), H Gear for Medard (65 mins), Sébastien Bézy for Doussain (71 mins).
Leighton Hodges (Wales).