It is one thing stringing together victories at Premiership level against opponents who go about their on-field business in a familiar way and spend a similar amount of money on personnel, and quite another beating a side like Toulouse, who are always capable of playing the rugby of the gods and work on a budget that English clubs would consider heaven-sent.
The reigning French champions are said to be splashing out something in the region of € 33m (£28m) this season, and while that particular currency is not in the best of shapes right now, the figure is very different to the £4.4m salary cap in force on this side of the water.
At a sold-out Harlequins stadium last night, Toulouse purred like a Rolls-Royce and spent much of the game threatening to run over their hosts and reduce them to roadkill. Maxime Médard was in imperious form at full-back, Florian Fritz and Yannick Jauzion were a rare old handful in midfield, Luke McAlister kicked the ball miles and the front-row unit were ruthlessly efficient at the set-piece. By half-time, they had laid the foundations for yet another Heineken Cup victory away from home – a victory over a side who had not tasted defeat all season.
Harlequins were too indisciplined around the tackle area and were a little too lateral in their passing game to seriously threaten the four-time European title holders in the opening period. Contrastingly, Toulouse were gloriously direct. No one died of shock when, following a floated pass off the right hand by McAlister, the back-row forwards Louis Picamoles and Thierry Dusautoir worked Timoci Matanavou over in the left corner.
With McAlister banging over a couple of penalties to a single strike from Nick Evans, the visitors took an eight-point lead into the interval. Yet the Londoners did not go into this game unbeaten across three competitions because they are not up to much. Their energetic response early in the second half was rewarded when the full-back Mike Brown, in the form of his life, completed a close-range try following a quick tap from Danny Care and some intelligent support from Chris Robshaw. All three of those Quins will be of interest to the England caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster, who was watching proceedings from the stand.
But Toulouse hurt their opponents everywhere, most notably from the bench. William Servat, one of the best two or three hookers in the world, quickly joined the fray, as did the powerful centre Yann David, and it was the latter who helped work Vincent Clerc clear in centre field in the build-up to the impressive Matanavou's wrap-up score at the flag. There was never any shortage of effort from Quins, but by comparison with the Frenchmen, there was undeniably a shortage of class.
Scorers: Harlequins:Try Brown; Conversion Evans; Penalty Evans. Toulouse:Tries Matanavou 2; Conversion McAlister; Penalties:McAlister 3.
Harlequins: M Brown; S Stegmann, M Hopper, B Urdapilleta, S Smith (U Monye, h-t); N Evans, D Care; J Marler (M Lambert, 64), C Brooker (J Gray, 49; Brooker, 80), J Johnston, T Vallejos, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (L Wallace, 68), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
Toulouse: M Médard; V Clerc, F Fritz (Y David, 53), Y Jauzion, T Matanavou (Y Donguy, 76); L McAlister, L Burgess (J-M Doussain, 63); J-B Poux (Y Montes, 45), G Botha (W Servat, 52), C Johnston (Y Boutemane, 78), G Lamboley, Y Maestri (R Millo-Chlusky, 55), Y Nyanga, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles (S Sowerby, 71).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).Reuse content