Planet Rugby

Toulouse at a canter

06th December 2008 15:28

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Yannick Jazion Toulouse red strip

Class: Yannick Jauzion and the Toulouse backs were at their blistering best

Triple-European champions Toulouse made light work of the visiting Dragons on Saturday, scoring a bonus point in a 26-7 win at Ernest Wallon Stadium to move to the top of Heineken Cup Pool Five.

The Dragons were never really in the game and apart from a ten minute spell at the start of the second half and a couple of moments in the last quarter when Toulouse had switched off, the Welsh side had no meaningful possession to work with.

Toulouse scored four masterful tries to underline their status as favourites to advance to the play-off stages.

The game was however marred by a serious-looking injury to Dragons' centre Marc Stcherbina, who was carried off with a suspected neck injury. The match was delayed for 10 minutes as the former Cardiff Blues centre lay motionless on the ground after his head was caught on the wrong side of a tackle in the 49th minute.

In wonderfully sunny conditions, though a little heavy under foot due to the overnight rain, the French champs were always going to the give ball some air.

The home side had their visitors putting in the miles, using long passes to spread play from one touchline to another and stretch the Welsh defence. The Dragons must be commended for their defensive work in the first half, but one had a feeling from early on that it was just a matter of time before they ran out of legs.

For all the the fancy footwork displayed by the red-clad backs, the Toulouse pack were simply dominant and provided their fast men with all the quality possession they could desire.

Toulouse made a late change to their side as Fabien Pelous was forced to withdraw on the morning of the match and was replaced by Pumas lock Patricio Albacete. The change in no way affected the Toulouse line-out, which was flush with options as Jean Bouilhou was used on a number of occasions.

Neither side could complain with their line-out work as Dragons competed well in defence and generally held onto possession when throwing in.

In the opening twenty minutes, Toulouse's superiority was plain to see. They were always one step ahead and did everything just a little faster than their visitors.

It took eleven minutes for their superiority to be reflected on the scoreboard when fly-half Frédéric Michalak put a deft chip past over the Dragons midfield from five yards out. With Yannick Jauzion arriving at pace, the visitors could do little to stop the French international from touching down.

Three missed penalties from Michalak meant that the scorers would not be troubled again and Tom Willis and his team would have been happy to be only seven points down at the break. A handful of timely turnovers when the Dragons were under siege in their 22 allowed the visitors to stay in the game - but only as for as the scores were concerned as they had not launched a single attack of any significance in forty minutes of rugby.

Richard Fussell's yellow card - for a sloppy high tackle on his opposite number Maxime Médard - just before half time did not bode well for the remaining half, but the Dragons came out the tunnel breathing fire in the second period. Unfortunately for Welsh fans, the fire was soon extinguished as the Toulouse backs struck again.

Michalak might have been having a terrible day from the kicking tee, but everything else he touched turned to gold. Byron Kelleher had switched the direction of play before another chip ahead from the fly-half, this time a cheeky grubber slipped under the charging Dragons defensive line sent in the opposite direction, was pounced upon by full-back Clement Poitrenaud.

It was one-way traffic for the next fifteen minutes. Michalak was again in the thick of the action as some marvelous handling put Médard over in the corner. Off the back of endless phases of pressure form the heavy hitters up front, Michalak produces a late offload to Jauzion - Jauzion to Heymans to Poitrenaud to Médard...you could not have asked for a classier or faster - string of passes. Five points were just reward.

With a quarter of an hour left on the clock, Michalak executed a no-look behind-the-back switch pass to replacement centre Florian Fritz, who ghosted under the posts for the bonus-point try.

With the game essentially over as a contest, and nothing left to do for Toulouse the Dragons were able to score a consolation try at the death as replacement hooker Steve Jones crashed over.

Man of the match: He might have had another nightmare from the kicking-tee, missing five attempts at goal but Frédéric Michalak made up for it by having a creative hand in all four of his team's tries. Some pundits in France have been asking if he has lost his spark after gaining five kilos of muscle in South Africa. Today he shut them up.

Moment of the match: Toulouse's third try, rounded off by Maxime Médard, was a masterpiece of handling and but paid to any hopes the Dragons had of a getting back into the game.

Villain of the match: Byron Kelleher tried his best to start a fight without success. No real villains to report.

The scorers

For Toulouse:

Tries: Jauzion, Poitrenaud, Médard, Fritz

Cons: Michalak 3

For Dragons:

Try: Steve Jones

Con: Connor

Yellow cards: Fussell (Dragons - 39th min -High tackle)

Toulouse: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Maxime Médard, 13 Maleli Kunavore, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Cédric Heymans, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Grégory Lamboley, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Roman Millo-Chluski, 4 Patricio Albacete, 3 Salvatore Perugini, 2 William Servat, 1 Dan Human.

Replacements: 16 Benoit Lecouls, 17 Alberto Vernet-Basualdo, 18 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 19 Shaun Sowerby, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Gaffie Du Toit, 22 Florian Fritz.

Dragons: 15 Phillip Dollman, 14 Gareth Wyatt, 13 Rhodri Gomer Davies, 12 Marc Stcherbina, 11 Richard Fussell, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Colin Charvis, 6 Joe Bearman, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Tom Willis (c), 1 Adam Black.

Replacements: 16 Steve Jones, 17 Gethin Robinson, 18 Daniel Lydiate, 19 Jamie Ringer, 20 Robert Lewis, 21 Shaun Connor, 22 Ashley Smith.

Venue: Stade Ernest-Wallon

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)

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