Michalak hunts down the Ospreys

Gwent Dragons 20 Stade Français 12
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Ospreys are a magnificent species of fish eagle, their nests marking the estuaries of such great waterways as the Chesapeake Bay, but their third foray into the European Cup was in weather for ducks and on a pitch that started with only innocent-looking pools of water to trap the unwary but ended cutting up so badly it will take a fortnight to fix.

If only Lyn Jones, the head coach of the Ospreys, could hope for the same. His side have now lost their first three Heineken outings, have lost eight matches in a row and are woefully short of the sort of firepower that rugby at this level requires.

Against a side who won the inaugural competition, currently hold the trophy and have figured in three semi-finals, they lacked not just the pace and the talent, but the thinking to provide any cutting edge. While Toulouse had Frédéric Michalak at stand-off to provide breaks and tactical kicking, Shaun Connor had a miserable afternoon, suffering more than his fair share of an inevitable hatful of early handling errors and failing to punish Toulouse with a series of aimless kicks.

Toulouse had used every available last minute for some forward coaching, and that was where their strength lay, especially in a back row that hustled and bundled their opponents off the ball and was willing to take the risk of quick handling moves to feed their backs.

With the return of prop Duncan Jones, the Ospreysdominated the scrum and the nearly 35-year old Gareth Llewellyn was a towering force in securing line-out ball. But it took the regional combination half an hour to make territorial gain by keeping it tight. Even then they did not have the sure handling of their rivals and constantly put themselves under pressure.

It had taken Toulouse just 80 seconds to inflict the first damage on the Ospreys, Christian Labite fielding a poor clearance from Connor and putting Cédric Heymans away on a splish-splash polka of a run. The second came at the end of the half as Heymans linked with Clement Poitrenaud and, with the Opsreys limited to just two penalties from Gavin Henson, Toulouse made sure of their bonus point as Yannick Jauzion and the cracking Jean-Baptiste Elissalde turned forward pressure into points.

The return fixture at the Gnoll next Friday night may be reason for a revival of Neath's old nickname, the Mourners.

Toulouse 29 Neath-Swansea Ospreys 6

Half-time: 15-3 Attendance: 11,600

Stade Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (N Jeanjean, 40); E Ntamack (capt) (C Desbrosse, 69), Y Jauzion, B Baby, C Heymans; F Michalak (Y Delaigue, 79), J-B Elissalde; P Collazo (B Lecouls, 55), Y Bru (W Servat, 55), J-B Poux, D Gerard, T Brennan, J Bouilhou (D Dima, 79), F Maka (R Millo-Chlusky, 77), C Labit.

Neath-Swansea Ospreys: G Henson; S Terblanche, E Seveali', S Gibbs (capt) (J Storey, 45), S Williams; S Connor, A Williams; D Jones (A Millward, 72), B Williams (H Bennett, 60), A Jones, A Newman, G Llewellyn, J Thomas, R Pugh (G Thomas, 55), N Bonner-Evans (J Bater, 77).

Referee: G de Santis (Italy).

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