Planet Rugby

Tigers' hopes left hanging

16th December 2007 16:53

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Tom Varndell v Toulouse

No way through: Tom Varndell is stopped in his tracks by Yannick Nyanga

Leicester's hopes of a Heineken Cup quarter-final berth are now slim indeed, after the Tigers suffered a 22-11 reverse to Toulouse in France on Sunday.

It looked for a while as though Leicester might have done enough to weather the initial Toulouse storm, and a good spell of possession heralded a possible upset for the visitors.

But Vincent Clerc popped up to finish off a sweeping backs move just after the hour to send Toulouse 19-11 in the lead, and from then on the French found some reserves of energy to close the game out.

The game never quite got the intensity of last week's in Leicester, but then it was the less intense team that held control for most of it. Toulouse edged the Tigers on well-executed set pieces, on the penalty count, on the clean breaks count, and finally on the try count. The gain-line hammering worked for the Tigers in the mud, but on a damp and still day on a firmer surface, Toulouse's artistry held sway.

Toulouse fly-half Valentin Courrent opened the scoring with a beautifully struck dropped goal, but was wide with a second attempt as the home side dominated the early exchanges. They really ought to have had more than just the three points - when Courrent struck his second attempt it was after several phases of play by the Leicester line which had sucked Leicester's backs in, leaving space out wide.

Early kicks at goal are chances to be taken, but the new passion for dropping goals just to rack up points is starting to become a bit of a bore. It costs teams if they miss too - Argentina's World Cup nearly came undone because of it. It nearly cost Toulouse.

As they did at Welford Road a week ago, the Tigers soaked up the early pressure and scored against the run of play. Two inside pops from Andy Goode - a feature of Leicester's attacking tactics - sent Martin Corry and then Jordan Crane into the Toulouse 22. When the ball came back, Goode sent it through the hands for winger Tom Varndell to score in the corner.

The French hit straight back, their star-studded backline producing a series of passes that only Toulouse can pull off.

Cédric Heymans joined the line as the extra man, leaving Ollie Smith stranded with too many men to tackle, and full-back Clément Poitrenaud ghosted in out wide to get the crowd back on side.

Jean-Baptiste Elissalde matched his half-back partner with another dropped goal after a desperate Lewis Moody tackle had denied Yannick Jauzion on a fine break, but the three points were immediately cancelled out by Andy Goode as the French side infringed in front of their posts.

Elissalde banged over a late penalty goal to give the home side a 14-8 lead at the break.

Leicester started the second half with real relish and after 43 minutes Goode reduced the deficit to just three by kicking his second penalty after Floran Fritz's dangerous bodycheck was spotted by Irish official Alan Lewis.

The three-time champions were instantly back on the attack and were only denied their second try by television match official John Sheehan. A grubber from Elissalde popped up awkwardly for Seru Rabeni, and Clerc sprang. Rabeni was deemed to have got there first, but there wasn't much in it.

Leicester soaked up the pressure and as the match hit the hour mark, the Guinness Premiership outfit began to take a grip on the contest as the French crowd became restless.

But in typical fashion, Toulouse bounced back and Clerc equalled Michel Marfaing's club record of 24 tries in the Heineken Cup in the right-hand corner.

After an initial burst by Jauzion on the left flank, Toulouse spread the ball wide to Poitrenaud and he supplied Clerc who fended off the Tigers' trio of Rabeni, Geordan Murphy and Corry to score.

Elissalde put the game out of Leicester's reach with a penalty with 10 minutes remaining as Leicester prop Marcos Ayerza collapsed a scrum, and as the freezing fog descended, the ball began to slip away from the desperate Leicester hands more and more. As, you feel, did the Tigers' chances of making the last eight.

Man of the Match: Vincent Clerc. He was faultless from start to finish.

The scorers:

For Toulouse:

Tries: Poitrenaud, Clerc

Pens: Elissalde 2

Drop goals: Courrent, Elissalde

For Leicester:

Try: Varndell

Pens: Goode 2

Toulouse: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yannick Jauzion, 12 Florian Fritz, 11 Cédric Heymans, 10 Valentin Courrent, 9 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 8 Shaun Sowerby, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Fabien Pelous (c), 3 Omar Hasan, 2 William Servat, 1 Daan Human.

Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Salvatore Perugini, 18 Romain Millo-Chlusky, 19 Grégory Lamboley, 20 Byron Kelleher, 21 Maleli Kunavore, 22 Maxime Medard.

Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Seru Rabeni, 13 Ollie Smith, 12 Dan Hipkiss, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Martin Corry (c), 5 Ben Kay, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 George Chuter, 1 Marcos Ayerza.

Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Julian White, 18 Richard Blaze, 19 Luke Abraham, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Aaron Mauger, 22 Sam Vesty.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Touch judges: Colin Stanley (Ireland), Brian MacNiece (Ireland)

Television match official: Brendan Fitzgerald (Ireland)

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