Michalak drops Blues to the brink

Toulouse 23 Cardiff Blues 7: Conclusive defeat by vengeful French giants leaves Young's men struggling to qualify for the quarter-finals
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The Independent Online

The Cardiff Blues' Heineken Cup hopes are hanging by a thread after Toulouse, who were beaten in Wales the week before, coasted to a comfortable home victory yesterday. Frédéric Michalak produced a masterly performance at scrum-half and was rewarded with 18 points and a deserved man of the match award.

Michalak kicked five penalties and a deft drop-goal and set up Toulouse's try – which was scored by the captain, Thierry Dusautoir – to keep the Welsh team out of bonus-point range. The Blues did hit back in the first half, through Faao Filise's try, but on the day that saw Gareth Thomas come out, the veteran wing was left on the losing side against one of his former teams. The Blues self-destructed, with ill-discipline in each half.

Thomas came on for the final eight minutes, with the score at 20-7, but the damage had been done. The Blues' blindside flanker, Andy Powell, and captain, Paul Tito, had been shown yellow cards by the Irish referee, Alan Lewis.

Dai Young's men had been placed on the back foot as early as the 12th minute, when their openside, Martyn Williams, conceded a penalty and Lewis warned the whole team about their discipline. Michalak made no mistake from close range for a 3-0 lead and worse was to follow from the re-start, when Tito was sent to the sin-bin for failing to roll away at the tackle.

The task of facing the three-time European champions in their own backyard would have been daunting enough but now, with a numerical disadvantage, the writing was on the wall for the Blues. In Tito's absence, they clung on for dear life, with Powell and Williams putting their bodies on the line. The onslaught continued, however, and it was no surprise when Toulouse crossed the Blues' line. Tito had returned from the sin-bin but Michalak's quick tap from close range caught the defence cold. Despite Xavier Rush's tackle to hold up the scrum-half, Dusautoir followed up and crashed over the line. Michalak struck the left-hand post with the conversion but the pressure was increasing on the Blues.

However, they finally gained some possession and their fly-half, Sam Norton-Knight, produced a moment of brilliance to set up Filise for a try that came wholly against the run of play. The Australian fly-half has endured a miserable start to his career in the Welsh capital but he fended off a Toulouse prop, Jean-Baptiste Poux and showed a wonderful burst of pace to leave Dusautoir in his wake before flicking a superb reverse pass to Filise. The prop showed surprising pace to power home from the 22, beating Vincent Clerc's covering tackle on the way.

Blair converted but he missed the chance to give his side a scarcely credible lead after Toulouse's Argentinian lock, Patricio Albacete, was shown a yellow card for killing the ball.

The Blues went in at half-time in good spirits but all their effort was rendered irrelevant when Powell became the third player to be sent to the sin-bin, in his case for putting his right shoulder into Clément Poitrenaud after the full-back had kicked.

The Blues failed to recover as Michalak kicked a drop-goal on 54 minutes for a 14-7 lead and three more penalties to put Toulouse in control of Pool Five.

Toulouse C Poitrenaud (M Médard, 74); V Clerc (C Heymans, 70), F Fritz, Y Jauzion, Y Donguy; D Skrela (N Bézy, 75), F Michalak; J Poux (D Human, 50), W Servat (V Lacombe, 75), B Lecouls (C Johnston, 40), Y Maestri (R Millo-Chluski, 49), P Albacete, J Bouilhou, L Picamoles (S Sowerby, 58), T Dusautoir (capt).

Cardiff Blues B Blair; L Halfpenny, T Shanklin, J Roberts, R Mustoe (G Thomas, 72); S Norton-Knight (C Sweeney, 74), G Cooper (R Rees, 60); G Jenkins, G Williams, F Filise, D Jones, P Tito (capt; S Morgan, 60), A Powell (S Warburton, 69), X Rush, M Williams.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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