Leicester outplayed by Toulouse in Heineken Cup opener

Toulouse 23 Leicester 9

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The Independent Online

The Tigers were knocked for six by the Kiwi boot of Toulouse stand-off Luke McAlister as he fired half a dozen penalties, most of them from long range, though his increasingly daunted opponents’ posts. Add to that an individual flash of brilliance and the Leicester goose was cooked.

There will be some uncompromising analysis in the coming week up at Welford Road for a side which, at times, was easily able to hold its own and prevent Toulouse from putting together any sustained strategy. A frustrated Richard Cockerill could only imitate a Gallic shrug afterwards – he has had some practice when coaching at Clermont Auvergne.

They had failed to take some chances, failed to control the ball, and “they will do damage, that’s what they do,” he said of Toulouse. “They can hurt you. It’s a bit disappointing when making the wrong calls at the wrong time and making little errors.”  He felt his side was winning the game at half time, even though they were 11-9 down at the time.

But when the home side switched its game at half time to kicking for pressure and territory the Midlanders’ game dissolved as the weather turned miserable  

This was no easy European opener for either side. Both are establishing early season platforms in their domestic leagues, Toulouse lying second to the braggadocio brigade from Toulon, Leicester lying third to Northampton and Quins.

The long-serving Toulouse director of rugby, Guy Noves, had promised to restore the faith of the fans after having been bundled out at the quarter final stage in Edinburgh and also saying he preferred to pick players who were willing to experiment.

True in the case of the 18-year old inside centre Gaël Fickou for whom he did not just relegate the admittedly aging but vastly experienced Yannick Jauzion to the bench, he dumped Jauzion completely as he wanted six of his eight replacements to be forwards. For Noves, muscle and power are not experimental.

Nor was having so many players with so many Hieneken appearances in the line-up. The captain, Thierry Dusautoir, was making only his 52nd, while full-back Clément Poitrenaud was on his 76th and there was a special cheer when Jean Builhou came on as a replacement to equal the record of 81 set up by his former captain, Fabien Pelous.

Afterwards he said that the game had been much harder than expected, that they had simply spilled far too much ball, and that there had been some hard talking at half time. Leicester did not score a single point in the second half.

But if this is a side which knows it is in transition – and it has the budget to plan with confidence – it is also a side with its eyes fixed firmly on the present. And the present, for all but three minutes of the first half, did not look very glittering or very powerful.

It would be a rare day when anyone could sweep Leicester aside, but the lack of invention could not all be put down to either the silly mistakes from Toulouse in attack or an obstinate defence which was not in the business of handing out soft giveaways.

The faith put into Fickou paid off after 37 minutes with a pick, kick and chase for a try which saw the young man outpace his opposite number Anthony Allen. It also meant that, while Leicester had profited by only three points when Toby Flood kicked his third penalty, this one from a yard and a half inside his own half, Toulouse had picked up five with prop Gurthro Steenkamp still in the bin for impeding a kick-off.

It had kept a not quite full stadium unusually quiet for long periods, though at least the threatening clouds, which had been delivering occasional pulses of fine drizzle turned off before the kick-off.

After the second half kick-off, Toulouse finally turned on the power as Leicester wilted under the scoreboard draining away any hope not just of pulling off a miracle win but even of scraping a losing bonus. They were lucky not to see two more tries from Fickou and Yohann Huget.

With Leicester at home to Ospreys for their second Pool 2 game, Toulouse travel to Treviso, the French three-times European champions are starting to build another platform.    

Scorers:Try, Fickou; Conv; Pens. McAlister (6): Drop goal;

TOULOUSE:C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, F Fritz, G Fickou, Y Huget (rep. T Matanavou, 75); L McAlister, J-M Doussain (rep. L Burgess, 71); G Steenkamp (rep J-B Poux, 57), G Botha (rep C Tolofua,57), C Johnston (rep. A Guillamon, 75), R Millo-Chluski (rep P Albacete, 57), Y Maestri, Y Nyanga (rep J Bouilhou, 57), T Dusautoir (Capt), L Picamoles (rep  J-B Poux, 33-38 and G Lamboley, 71).  

Scorers: Try; Conv; Pens. Flood (3); Drop goal;

LEICESTER: S Hamilton; N Morris (rep. M Smith, 73), M Tuilagi, A Allen, V Goneva; T Flood, B Youngs; L Mulipola, T Youngs, D Cole (rep M Castrogiovanni, 57), G Kitchener (rep E Slater, 57), G Parling, S Mafi (rep. R Thorpe, 75), T Waldrom, J Crane (Capt).

Referee; N Owens (Wales)