Connacht 7-21 Toulouse: Connacht's Champions Cup dreams ended
Last Updated: 11/01/20 6:16pm
Connacht's slim hopes of qualification for the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals were ended by a 21-7 defeat to Toulouse at the Sportsground.
The French champions sealed their passage through to the last eight as Pool Five winners, with converted scores from captain Jerome Kaino, Julien Marchand and Pita Ahki cancelling out an early Connacht penalty try.
Leading 14-7 at half-time, former Connacht back Ahki capitalised on Antoine Dupont's charge-down of a Jack Carty kick to put Toulouse out of reach. An increasingly-frustrated Connacht even failed to score late on when the visitors lost Yoann Huget to the sin-bin and Zach Holmes to a red card.
Fly-half Holmes' 73rd-minute dismissal for a high tackle on Tiernan O'Halloran came too late to influence the outcome.
Toulouse had started the brighter, with Connacht needing strong defence, particularly from Tom McCartney and Ultan Dillane, to keep them at bay.
Having absorbed that pressure, Andy Friend's men were able to land the first blow in the 10th minute. Three penalties were kicked to touch and a powerful rolling maul yielded a penalty try. Toulouse lock Joe Tekori was also yellow carded by referee Luke Pearce.
The hosts' numerical advantage was short-lived, though, as flanker Colby Fainga'a soon went to the bin for a high hit on Thomas Ramos. By the end of the first quarter, Toulouse were level, their hard carries setting up former All Black Kaino to burrow over and Ramos converted.
The pool leaders were now in the ascendancy in terms of possession and territory and their dominance eventually bore fruit just before the break. Impressive hooker Marchand profited from a well-executed lineout drive to score from the base. Ramos converted again to make it 14-7.
Four minutes after the restart, pressure on the Connacht half-backs saw Dupont block Carty's clearance on his own try-line and centre Ahki successfully grounded the loose ball. Adding to Connacht's woes, full-back Ramos sent over the difficult conversion to open up a 14-point gap.
Buoyed by the impact of replacements Caolin Blade and Dave Heffernan, Connacht attacked with vigour but their execution let them down as they scrambled to maintain their proud record of 14 straight home pool wins across the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup since November 2015.
Toulouse's stubborn and well-organised defence repelled the hosts until they lost their discipline during the closing quarter. Replacement Huget was binned for a dump tackle on heavily-involved full-back O'Halloran, setting up a 15-against-14 scenario for the final nine minutes.
Just moments later, O'Halloran once again bore the brunt of overzealous Toulouse defending when Holmes caught him high. However, Connacht were unable to exploit the extra space as Toulouse's pack of heavyweights - including man-of-the-match prop Charlie Faumuina - had laid the platform for a fifth straight pool victory.