Toulouse demonstrated their Heineken Cup know-how on Saturday by brushing aside the Dragons 42-19 at Rodney Parade.
Toulouse showed their Heineken Cup know-how on Saturday by brushing aside the Dragons 42-19 at Rodney Parade.
It was only the French giants' eighth win from fifteen European starts on Welsh soil, and they were indebted to a kicking masterclass from fly-half David Skrela.
Skrela booted 21 points from four penalties, a drop-goal and three conversions, although he was also sin-binned during a lively encounter.
Centre Florian Fritz chipped in with two penalties when Skrela was off, while flanker Thierry Dusautoir, number eight Louis Picamoles and full-back Maxime Medard – the latter a clinically-executed team effort – scored tries.
The Dragons – favourites to finish bottom of Pool Six – mustered four Matthew Jones penalties, trailing only 15-12 just before half-time, while full-back Will Harries touched down late on and Jones converted.
But Toulouse won comfortably despite never threatening to hit top gear. In two Heineken games this season they have scored just three tries, yet still top their group heading into pre-Christmas home and away appointments with Glasgow.
The injury-hit Dragons, beaten by Glasgow in their pool opener, faced a Herculean task against a Toulouse side packed with international stars.
The reigning European champions made eight changes following last weekend's narrow victory over Wasps, while the likes of Clement Poitrenaud, Vincent Clerc and Byron Kelleher were on bench duty.
Dragons coach Paul Turner had billed the game as Preston versus Real Madrid, but his side made a bright start through a Jones penalty inside 60 seconds.
Jones' opposite number Skrela replied with a drop-goal before an exchange of penalties, but approaching the end of a breathless – if patternless – opening quarter, Toulouse had been kept in check.
The boot continued to dominate, with two further Skrela penalties either side of Jones completing his hat-trick edging Toulouse 12-9 ahead, but there were ominous signs up-front, where the visiting pack began to exert scrum pressure,
Another Skrela penalty put Toulouse six points clear, yet it was his final scoring contribution of the half as referee Andrew Small sin-binned him for holding back Dragons scrum-half Wayne Evans off the ball.
Jones kicked the resulting penalty, but the Dragons' temporary one-man advantage was immediately cancelled out when home prop Ben Castle received a yellow card for offside.
With Skrela absent, Fritz took over the kicking duties, and another three-pointer gave Toulouse a deserved – if unspectacular – 18-12 interval advantage.
Toulouse came out firing for the second period, and after a second Fritz penalty, they powered over for their first try in this season's Heineken Cup.
Their back-row peeled off a line-out deep inside the Dragons' 22, and Small required confirmation from the video official before awarding Dusautoir the touchdown.
Skrela marked his return to the contest by booting an easy conversion, and a brave Dragons challenge appeared over, 16 points adrift with more than 30 minutes remaining.
Medard then sliced the Dragons' defence to shreds, Skrela adding the extras, and it had become a damage-limitation exercise for the hosts.
But they never threw in the towel, and Harries' sharp score following a quickly-taken penalty by hooker Steve Jones underlined a committed – if limited – display.
Typically, Toulouse had the final say when an impressive Picamoles powered his way over, and the only disappointment for the visitors was their failure to collect a fourth touchdown that would have given them a five-point maximum.
Pens: Jones 4
Tries: Dusautoir, Medard, Picamoles
Cons: Skrela 3
Pens: Skrela 4, Fritz 2
Yellow card: Skrela (Toulouse – 33rd min); Castle (Dragons – 36th min)
Dragons: 15 Will Harries, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Tom Cheeseman, 12 Tom Riley, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jones, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Andrew Coombs, 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Robert Sidoli, 4 Scott Morgan, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Hugh Gustafson, 18 Pat Palmer, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Tobey Faletau, 21 Nicky Griffiths, 22 Matthew Jones, 23 Rhodri Gomer-Davies.
Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vilimoni Delasau, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 CÃ©dric Heymans, 10 David Skrela, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Yohan Montes, 2 William Servat, 1 Daan Human.
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Census Johnston, 19 Shaun Sowerby, 21 ClÃ©ment Poitrenaud, 22 Vincent Clerc, 23 Yannick Nyanga.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)