Rugby Union: Quins wilt in heat of Gallic flair

Toulouse 51 Harlequins 10
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The Independent Online
There is every likelihood that the joyous 18,000 in what promises to be a superbly appointed stadium for the 1998 football World Cup, witnessed not just an awesome quarter-final performance by their heroes but also a glimpse of the future. On this sort of showing it is difficult to imagine any side other than the Rouges et Noirs of Toulouse lifting the Heineken Cup on 31 January.

Harlequins were not so much beaten as flogged all around the Stadium de Toulouse. They were hopelessly out-thought, outplayed, outweighed, and outshoved. At times it was embarrassing to watch. It did not seem to matter if the French champions had the ball or not, they still succeeded in going forward.

Quins were knocked back five yards in the tackle when they attempted any advance and what little ground they did make only took them into a solid wall of defenders. When they had the chance to strut their stuff the home side's backs skinned their opposite numbers.

It was a match as one-sided as the score suggests. There were red flares on the terraces just before the start and red and black flair on the pitch throughout. Toulouse's every move was cheered from explosive start to stupendous climax. It was a festival of sight and sound; the whole a kaleidoscope of colour and noise.

Toulouse were ahead even before the smoke from the flares had cleared: Emile Ntamack scooped up Stephane Ougier's delicate grubber, ghosted out of the smog and into the clear for the simplest of tries - touching down just two minutes and 10 seconds into the match. By the time he left the massacre after almost an hour, the job was done.

Eight drummers set up an insistent beat, a threnody which turned into the soundtrack to the worst moments of Harlequins' rugby life. Thierry Lacroix's solitary first-half penalty was quickly wiped out and Ougier had knocked over another three before half-time.

Toulouse also scored a gem of a try. The scrum-half, Jerome Cazalbou, put a delicate chip behind, Daren O'Leary, and the left-wing, Philippe Lapoutge, scorched through, gathered up and hared over in the corner.

The second half began like the first with a try after two minutes; the centre, Pierre Bondouy, racing over for yet another nail in the coffin of Harlequins' European hopes. When the No 8, Sylvain Dispagne, picked up and burst through from a scrum there was to be no return; Yann Delaigue's second conversion made sure of that.

Thereafter it was just a matter of by how many and by how much. Ougier landed his fifth penalty, and even when Quins staged a belated revival midway through the second half they allowed Toulouse to counter-attack to devastating effect.

A tap penalty and a fortunate bounce off his knee saw Bondouy racing over for a second try. And, shortly after Quins' own Frenchman, Lacroix, touched down for a consolation try, his namesake, the Toulouse blindside Didier Lacroix, was driven over from a line-out in the 78th minute. Ougier's conversion from out on the left wing brought up the humiliating half-century. All that remained was for Toulouse to receive the plaudits of their hysterical, banner-waving fans.

Toulouse: S Ougier; E Ntamack (M Marfaing, 57), R Paillat, P Bondouy, P Lapoutge; Y Delaigue, J Cazalbou (capt; J Tilloles, 66); C Califano, P Soula (J Begue, 70), F Tournaire (J-L Jordana, 62), H Miorin, F Pelous, D Lacroix, S Dispagne, C Labit (F Belot, 57).

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary (J Keyter, 77), W Carling, J Ngauamo, T Tollett; T Lacroix, H Harries (N Walshe, 55); A Ozdemir (D Rouse, 53), K Wood (capt), J Leonard, G Llewellyn, L Gross, L Cabannes, B Davison, R Jenkins.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).

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