Jones bemoans lack of even playing field as Sale trip up

Sale 31 Toulouse 19
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It is not enough to succeed, others must fail. Gore Vidal may be the author of those famed sentiments but they were also Toulouse's motivation yesterday, as they not only reaffirmed their reputation but ended Sale's meagre hopes of further European encounters this season.

Sale needed to win and hope Cardiff Blues lost to Harlequins in order to qualify for the Challenge Cup as one of the best Heineken Cup runners-up; their ambitions in that competition having effectively been ended by the Blues last weekend.

Unfortunately for Sale, the reverse of those desires occurred as an inspired Blues rampaged past Harlequins with a crucial bonus-point victory, which then offered the French side the opportunity to hammer in the final nail in Sale's 2010 European coffin.

Northampton Saints now remain the Guinness Premiership's sole representative in Europe's premier rugby competition, and Kingsley Jones, the Sale director of rugby, believes the reason for the scarcity of English clubs in the latter stages is down to the financial restrictions placed on teams.

Sale have an annual £4m salary cap to contend with; the Toulouse team cost around €16m (£13.9m) to assemble. Rocket-science degrees are not required to work out why Toulouse won.

"We need an even playing field; I know what players cost and we can't compete with the likes of the Ospreys and the French clubs," Jones said.

Jones, though, was not bitter in his assessment and praised Toulouse's unblinking efficiency: "They respected us and came for a win. Ultimately, this tournament is about getting results and all credit to Toulouse. You would have to make them favourites now; they have the squad to win this."

Charlie Hodgson soon found his range to put Sale into the lead with a penalty before Jean-Baptiste Elissalde landed a drop-goal as Toulouse made the most of Sisa Koyamaibole's departure to the sin-bin.

Another penalty from Hodgson and a further drop-goal from Elissalde meant the opening 40 minutes ended all square at 6-6, although Sale were again down to 14 men when Chris Jones was harshly penalised at the breakdown just before the break and that proved to be crucial.

Toulouse capitalised on Jones's absence as Virgile Lacombe made the most of some punishing forward work and scurried over for Elissalde to convert. The try clearly hurt the home side and Toulouse would have scored again moments later but for a superb covering tackle by Hodgson that bundled Vincent Clerc into touch.

Clerc then became the third player dispatched to the sin-bin after thumping into scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, but Sale could not prosper and an Elissalde penalty nudged the visitors further into the ascendancy.

The encounter was not quite dead, though. Mathew Tait spotted the smallest of gaps on the right and foxed Yannick Jauzion and Clément Poitrenaud before managing to scramble over the Toulouse try-line by little more than an inch, to show that his nose for a chance is all the more refined when handed a regular start and a regular berth at outside-centre. It was a brief glimmer of hope, before a further Elissalde penalty sealed the encounter. Without a doubt, Toulouse are going to take some stopping.

Scorers: Sale: Try Tait; Penalties Hodgson 2. Conversion Hodgson. Toulouse: Try Lacombe; Penalties Elissalde 2; Conversion Elissalde; Drop-goals: Elissalde 2.

Sale Sharks: Macleod; Cueto, Tait, Kennedy (Tuilagi 49, Ripol 76),Doherty; Hodgson, Wigglesworth (Leck 73); Roberts, Schwalger (M Jones 73), Halsall, Jones (Cox 70), Schofield, Gaskell, Abraham (Fearns 21), Koyamaibole.

Toulouse: Poitrenaud; Clerc, David, Jauxion, Heymans; Elissalde, Michalak (Kelleher 60); Poux, Lacombe,Lecouls (Human 40), Maestri (Bouilhou 60), Albacete, Lamboley, Dusautoir, Picamoles (Sowerby 73).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).