Drums pounding, ecstatic, red wine-fuelled fans alternately baying for more and roaring approval signalled Toulouse were in their pomp in a home town where they have not lost an opening Heineken Cup match since 2000-2001 against Saracens.
The pain for Sale started with Maxime Medard’s try less than two minutes into a game they were given no chance of wining and 78 minutes of damage limitation was staring them in the face. They did it well and had the final shout with two tries in the last five minutes.
That they stood up to the job with character to spare was laudable, and Carl Fearns covered himself in glory, but they were outgunned in every department. The early blood in the water was their own and it looked as if they could do nothing to avoid the feeding frenzy.
That there was not more was down to the unfortunate slide by rugby, which is supposed to test every muscle and sinew for 80 minutes, into a torrent of substitutes.
In a rhythm-wrecking move seven minutes into the second half Toulouse coach Guy Noves made six changes, the whole front row, half the second row, one of the back row, and the stand-off.
It spoiled the prospect of seeing more of a power-packed Toulouse in an almost mesmeric interchange of bulldozing forwards and silky backs pounding at the Sale defence.
Masterminding it was the combination of scrum-half Byron Kelleher, who faces charges of assault and drunk driving at the end of the month, and a forerunner in the number nine short, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, kicking beautifully from either touchline.
Profiting especially was the wing Vicent Clerc, who needed just one try to be the first to 30 in the Heineken Cup. Not content with breaking ythe record, he did it again with a second from a beautifully chipped kicj from Elissalde at the base of the scrum.
When his opposite number Cedric Heymans was gibven an early ticket home at half time Yves Dongut cam on to score the first of two in just 45 seconds and added a second despite being dragged away from the touchdown by Chris Bell.
Toulouse had a jerky start to its Top 14 season, notably losing to the upstart Toulon in a gladiatorial affair moved to accommodate a big crowd at the Velodrome in Marseille. But the move into high gear took place last weekend when they put on a smooth display full of the old confidence with an away win at Montpellier.
Sale, in contrast, has had a string of losses, the last at home in a dog fight against London Irish. Former coach Philippe St. Andre had taken Juan Fernandez-Lobbe and Sebastien Bruno with him to Toulon, Sebastien Chabal, Jason White, and Luke McAlister have also gone.
As winger Oriol Ripol said: “Tell me of any club in the world which would not have suffered from such departures. Don’t look. There aren’t any.” Perhaps “resting” Andrew Sheridan and Mark Cueto indicates expediency of policy from a club which is watching the pennies when facing the best-funded in Europe.
Salkes’ final flourish came first from Rob O’Donnell, a prop asked to play most of the match in the second row, and then a ben Cohen, showing much of his old aggression.
Sale must now prepare for Cardiff on Friday night, when Charlie Hodgson may be brought back into play. Last year, after losing in the quarter final to Cardiff, Toulouse coach Guy Noves, even with all his resources, felt he had to choose between Top 14 or Heineken priorities. Sale needs to stop the rot.
Scorers: Tries; Medard, Clerc (2) Donguy (2); Convs Elissalde (3) Michalak; Pen; Elissalde
TOULOUSE: M Medard; V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, C Hermans (rep Y Donguy, 40); J-B Elissalde (Rep F Michalak, 47), B Kelleher; D Human (rep J-B Poux, 47), W Servat (rep V Lacombe, 47), C Johnston (rep b Lecouls, 47), G Lamboley, P Albacete (rep R Millo-Chluski, 47), J Bouilhou (rep Y Nyanga, 71), T Dusautoir (Capt), L Picamoles (rep Y David, 47).
Scorers; Try; O’Donnell, Cohen; Convs: MacLeod (2); Pen; MacLeod, M Vacacegu; B Cohen, J Kennedy, A Tuilagi, O Ripol; N MacLeod, D Peel (Capt); G Kerr, M Schwalger, J Forster, R O’Donnell, S Cox, J Gaskell, D Seymour, C Fearns.
Referee; G Clancy (IRL)
Man of the match; Vincent ClercReuse content