Marfaing powers Toulouse into semis

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The Independent Online

Toulouse booked their place in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup with a commanding 31-18 victory over Montferrand at the Stade Municipal yesterday.

The 1996 European champions were outscored two tries to one in front of a capacity 37,000-strong crowd but the boot of Michel Marfaing gave them a clear edge from the start of a pulsating quarter-final. Toulouse cruised into a 22-3 half-time lead and, although Montferrand staged a stirring fightback, they had left themselves too much to do against the most consistent side in Europe.

With Stade Français crashing out of the last eight at Munster, Toulouse are left to fly the flag for France in the semi-finals in early May.

Full-back Stéphane Ougier got their only try in the first half, but six penalty goals from Marfaing, plus drop goals from Alain Penaud and Ougier, sealed Montferrand's fate. Marfaing added a conversion to take his tally in the tournament to 90 points and, although Alexandre Audebert and Tony Marsh got tries for Montferrand in the second half, Toulouse were home and dry. They are now the clear favourites for the European crown.

"The result is deserved. We were very strong and confident," said scrum-half Jérome Cazalbou. "We made few errors and we played very well when handling the ball."

Newcastle crashed out of the European Shield at the quarter-final stage in Pau yesterday Their 36-20 defeat owed much to the fact that they decided to field a below strength side. The Falcons face a make-or-break Premership survival clash with London Irish on Tuesday and opted not to risk the likes of Jonny Wilkinson.

The former French fly-half David Aucagne was the hero of the day for Pau, as he kicked 16 points from four penalties and a couple of conversions. David Walder bagged a couple of first half penalties for the Falcons, who had their wings clipped just before the break when Pau crossed for a brace of tries, the first from Joel Rey.

Newcastle were 24-6 adrift by half-time. In the second, Martin Shaw and Harley Crane scored tries for Newcastle but they were never likely to overturn the half-time deficit and Pau held on with consummate ease.

In the only Welsh-Scottish League game of the day, Neath pipped Pontypridd 37-34 at The Gnoll thanks to the boots of Matthew Pearce and Cerith Rees. Pearce kicked three penalties and a conversion of Shane Williams' first of two tries, while Rees added a hat-trick of penalties and a second half conversion when the Tonga centre David Tuieti crossed.

Neath led 18-14 at the interval but Pontypridd threatened to strike back after the interval with full-back Brett Davey scoring 19 points and Paul John, Mike Owen and John Colderley adding tries.