Smith praises Toulouse as ragged Rhinos reach final

Leeds 56 Toulouse 18
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The Independent Online

The gloomy predictions that the French could be the victims of a record score faded as Toulouse played rugby that was both tidy and adventurous. They had Leeds thoroughly disconcerted and, with a little more steadiness, could have been ahead at half-time.

"I was very, very proud of the effort," said their coach, Justin Morgan. "I thought maybe the pace of the game would get us in the end and that's what did get us."

That was not before the French part-timers did more than could reasonably be expected of them, taking the lead twice in the first 15 minutes. They showed enterprise from the start, forcing Ali Lauitiiti into a touch from a short kick-off and scoring after only 70 seconds when James Wynne's pass put Adrien Viala through some weak tackling.

Chris McKenna's converted try put Leeds in front, but not for long, as Wynne, who was once Andrew Johns' understudy at the Newcastle Knights, soon found another gap in the Rhinos' defence. Gareth Ellis restored Leeds' lead, but Damien Couturier's goal brought the French level and even a quick pair of tries set up by Matt Diskin for Danny McGuire and Lauitiiti could not deflate them.

The best moment of the whole match came when Sébastien Raguin, a second rower who works as a traffic warden during the day and looks as though he trains on red wine and cassoulet, stormed through from 40 metres out. He was given the man of the match award and Toulouse would have been ahead at half-time if his team-mate Vincent Almuzara had been able to find one of three men in support when he made a defence-splitting run immediately before the break.

After that, it all became more predictable in the second half, with Leeds' greater fitness and pace wearing down their opponents as Marcus Bai, Mark Calderwood, Rob Burrow, McGuire and Chev Walker all went over for tries.

The final indignity came in the last minute as Toulouse's weary pack was shoved off its own ball at a scrum for Willie Poching to complete the scoring.

An ultimately lopsided scoreline could not disguise the contribution the French had made to a highly watchable contest.

"We've played better, but rather than be too negative, I thought Toulouse were terrific," said the Rhinos' coach, Tony Smith. "We knew we were going to play against a highly motivated team with nothing to lose and they really went for it in the first half.''

Smith said he was never too concerned about the eventual outcome, but there was no mistaking the progress the game is making in France. Toulouse have aspirations to follow Les Catalans into Super League and for quite a while yesterday afternoon that prospect did not look as far-fetched as it might once have seemed.

Leeds: Mathers; Calderwood, Walker, Senior, Bai; McGuire, Burrow; Ward, Diskin, McDermott, Lauitiiti, McKenna, Ellis. Substitutes used: Dunemann, Scruton, Poching, Bailey.

Toulouse: Murphy; Lima, Couturier, Estebanez, Jamzac; Mulhall, Wynne; Faure, Gay, Gallagher, Delpoux, Raguin, Viala. Substitutes used: Prizzon, Vincent, Frayssinet, Almuzara.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).

Andrew Johns, the Australia scrum-half who is joining Warrington for the end of the season, says he has permission from the ARL to miss the Test against New Zealand on 15 October if the Wolves progress to the Super League Grand Final.

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