Harlequins 10 Toulouse 21: French power surge bursts Quins bubble
Harlequins” record-breaking winning run was brought to a shuddering halt at The Stoop last night as a day ofAnglo-French antagonism ended with Toulouse reminding the rest of Europe about their peerless Heineken Cup pedigree.
Conor O’Shea’s young side had carriedall before them prior to this Pool Six fixture, winning all 14 of theirgames, but this was always going to be a giant step up.
On the run: Vincent Clerc breaks through the Harlequins defence
England’s new caretaker coach, Stuart Lancaster, was there to watch a number of Six Nations candidates, but he was subjected to the grim sight of the runaway leaders of the Aviva Premiership being emphatically outplayed.
During the first half, Toulouse out-muscled the hosts to a staggering extent, from the scrum to just about every isolated contact point. It was more balanced after the break, but the damage had been done and Fijian wing Timoci Matanavou’s second try put the contest beyond doubt.
For O’Shea, this was a timely pointer about where his team are in the evolutionary process and they must go to the south of France next Sunday and conjure an upset in the daunting return fixture.
For home captain Chris Robshaw and all those hoping to enhance their England claims, this was not the scenario they would have hoped for. A few bright bursts from Danny Care and some powerful carrying by Nick Easter were overshadowed by the collective disappointment. Young prop Joe Marler shone in open play but suffered a taxing night in the scrum and eventually went off on a stretcher.
‘The right side won,’ said O’Shea, Harlequins’ director of rugby. ‘They were incredibly physical and won the battle of the gainline, but we have to get used to playing at this level. We will be completely written off next week but we’re not a bad side after losing tonight, just as we weren’t a great side when we were winning games.
Getting his kicks: Luke McAlister in action for Toulouse
‘The players are down, they are battered and bruised, but give it a couple of days and they will be ready for the next job.’
After a penalty apiece from Luke McAlister and Nick Evans for Quins, Toulouse surged clear with a swagger in the 17th minute.
Robshaw appeared to have won turnover possession at a ruck outside his 22 but Maxime Medard came away with the ball and nearly ran clear.
Still, the French side had numbers in the right place and a long pass from McAlister found Louis Picamoles. The No 8 showed perfect timing to release Thierry Dusautoir and the France captain off-loaded to send Matanavou hurtling away to the line.
On the move: Danny Care in action for Harlequins
McAlister added another penalty and Toulouse kept pressing. Florian Fritz and Dusautoir were just about kept out shortly before half-time asGuy Noves’ side went in 11-3 ahead. After the break, Quins rallied and rookie centre Matt Hopper’s outstanding break out of defence laid the platform for a home try. A solid scrum led to an attacking penalty, Caretook a quick tap and Marler acted as the link-man to put Mike Brown over.
Evans converted to reduce the gap to a point but McAlister’s third penalty gave his side breathing space again and, with 15 minutes to go,Vincent Clerc’s blistering burst through midfield created the opening for Matanavou to touch down in the left corner.
McAlister’s conversion sealed a convincing win on the road which announced Toulouse as prime challengers once more and gave O’Shea and his men plenty to ponder in the next week.