Toulouse advance and deny Connacht
REPORT: Toulouse held off a spirited Connacht effort to book their place in the European Champions Cup quarterfinals, 19-10, and deny their Pool Two rivals.
Connacht knew a losing bonus-point would have been enough to seal a first appearance in the Champions Cup last eight. But they paid the price for a slow start. Tries from Gael Fickou, Arthur Bonneval and Joe Tekori put the four-time champions 19-3 ahead at the start of the second half.
John Muldoon's try gave Pat Lam hope of a place in the quarterfinals, but they failed to find the decisive penalty or drop-goal that would have seen them advance. Toulouse qualify as best runner-up from the pool and will travel to Thomond Park to take on Munster in a mouthwatering clash at Thomond Park.
Toulouse got off to a ferocious start at Stade Ernest Wallon. Fickou used his fast feet to break in midfield and storm downfield to put the hosts on the front-foot.
Cyril Baille was held-up over the line after some heavy pressure, but the breakthrough soon came. The hosts took a quick-tap penalty and hammered away at the try line, before Sebastien Bezy found Fickou in space, and all he had to do was dive over the try line.
Jean-Marc Doussain converted for an early 7-0 lead.
And it got even better for the four-time European champions after 17 minutes. Yoann Huget sliced through in midfield and charged down field before finding Bonneval with a perfectly weighted pass.
The wing fended off the challenge of Matt Healey to dive over in the corner. Doussain made it 14-0 with the conversion from the touchline.
Connacht finally got on the scoreboard after 33 minutes with a Craig Ronaldson penalty, before Quinn Roux was shown a yellow card with Toulouse leading 14-3 just before half-time.
The Toulouse power shone through after the break as they gave Connacht a mountain to climb. Some indiscipline from the Irish defence allowed their rivals to pile on the pressure. And they soon cracked as Tekori peeled off the back of a powerful maul to score and make it 19-3.
But just when Connacht needed a leader, Muldoon re-ignited their quarterfinal charge.
Peter Robb made good ground with a powerful run down the centre before the ball was shipped to their skipper, who barged his way over. Ronaldson converted to cut the gap to 19-10. But Toulouse held off Connacht in the final minutes to advance.
Tries: Fickou, Bonneval, Tekori
Cons: Doussain 2
Yellow card: Quinn Roux (Connacht, 36)
Toulouse: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Arthur Bonneval, 13 Yann David , 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Paul Perez, 10 Jean-Marc Doussain, 9 Sébastien Bézy, 8 Francois Cros, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Joe Tekori, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacement: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Gurthro Steenkamp, 19 Talalelei Gray, 20 Piula Faasalele, 21 Gillian Galan, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Alexis Palisson
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Peter Robb, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon(captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Nepia Fox-Matamua, 5 James Cannon, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 John Andress, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Naulia Dawai, 21 John Cooney, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Danie Poolman
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Peter Allan (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)