Rugby Union: Toulouse's `imperfect' annihilation stuns Carling

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The Independent Online
Toulouse 51 Harlequins 10

When Will Carling is moved to compare Toulouse with New Zealand it is obvious that something special has happened. In fact the total annihilation of Harlequins in the Heineken Cup quarter-final in the city's football stadium was something extra special and since victory earned the French club another home tie in the semi-finals you can have only sympathy for their semi-final opponents, Brive.

Carling, the former England captain, said afterwards: "I have not been on the end of anything like that since the All Blacks in the semi-final of the World Cup. That was one of the great performances by a club team. I can't see anyone beating them if they play with anywhere like the power and pace they showed today."

So shattered were Harlequins after suffering a record defeat for the knock-out stages of the European competition that they remained behind locked doors for more than an hour and a quarter after the final whistle.

There was little or nothing that could be drawn from the hopelessly one- sided match. Andy Keast, Quins' director of rugby, looked shell-shocked afterwards. "We were outclassed in every department. Toulouse did everything bloody well.

"They did not deviate from their pattern of play. They never faltered. They were in control throughout. They were fantastic. There is not a lot of difference in the style or approach of either side, it is just that they were better at it than we were on the day. They were more aggressive."

The French front five took charge of the scrums; they dominated the line- out and around the fringes the back row and the props were outstanding. Every tackle made by the French seemed to knock Quins back five metres. Invariably they would turn over possession and then the clinical finishing of the Toulouse backs would punish Harlequins for the error. On the rare occasions that Quins asserted themselves, midway through the second half, they failed abysmally to turn pressure into enough points.

The atmosphere was like nothing anyone had experienced before. Red flares glared out before the start. Toulouse had moved from their own ground at Les Sept Deniers to the football stadium, which although it is in the process of being rebuilt in readiness for the 1998 football World Cup, was still able to accommodate 18,000 supporters (50 per cent more than Toulouse usually get). And seemingly everyone was a Toulouse fan. They created an intimidating atmosphere, a wall of sound over which Harlequin voices could not climb.

From the moment, in the third minute, when Emile Ntamack blazed out of the pall of smoke left by the flares to open the scoring with the first of Toulouse's half dozen tries, and mark his return to full fitness after a nine month lay-off through injury, there was only one way the tie was heading.

There were two tries for centre Pierre Bondouy, one each for Philippe Lapoutge, Sylvain Dispagne and Didier Lacroix and 17 points for full-back Stephane Ougier. In fact all 61 points were scored by Frenchmen.

Harlequins Thierry Lacroix landed a penalty and converted his solitary try and has still, like Quins team-mate Laurent Cabannes, to taste victory in a club match in Toulouse. He did not manage it when he played for Dax, and Cabannes suffered defeat after defeat with first Pau and then Racing Club de France.

After this showing it almost seemed unlikely that any side could ever again win in Toulouse. Especially after scrum-half and captain Jerome Cazalbou said: "That was not a perfect performance; but it was pretty close."

Heaven help everyone when they get it right.

Toulouse: Tries Ntamack, Lapoutge, Bondouy 2, Dispagne, D Lacroix; Conversions Delaigue 2, Ougier; Penalties Ougier 5.

Harlequins: Try T Lacroix; Conversion T Lacroix; Penalty T Lacroix.

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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