Toulouse 22 Leicester 11: Clerc holds court to keep Toulouse top of the class

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The Independent Online

The sun which finally burned through the cloud and freezing fog that had enrobed Toulouse all morning yesterday, also inspired a near majestic victory, not over just anyone, but over another multiple winner of the European Cup, Leicester. The thermometer may have been hovering just above zero, but, in contrast to the miserable outcome in miserable weather last weekend, this was a French side in no mood to hand out any more Christmas presents. Not even a consolation loser's bonus was on offer as Toulouse swept to the head of Pool 6, just as they top their home championship.

The first half alone was worth the price of a ticket as, after a couple of minutes of exchanging tentative end-to-end punts, Toulouse decided to push the go button. First Valentin Courrent, inheritor of the Frdric Michalak mantle now that the sometimes magician is with the Sharks in Natal, dropped a goal.

The men in black then turned on 10 minutes of just the kind of running and handling rugby for which they are famous.

But Toulouse gained no points despite a second drop attempt from Courrent, they lost Argentine second row Patricio Albacete and on 16 minutes following two phases of counter-attack by the Tigers, Tom Varndell, switching from left to right, was on the end of an Andy Goode pass via Dan Hipkiss to score in the right corner.

The adventure of Toulouse was rewarded only three minutes later when a brilliant service to Courrent from Jean-Baptiste Élissalde, back from injury to put Byron Kelleher on the bench, released Cedric Heymans, Florian Fritz and last week's giver of gifts to Ollie Smith, Clment Poitrenaud, in for the sweetest of touchdowns.

With the Tigers spilling too much possession, Toulouse went further ahead with an Élissalde drop, only to be pulled back by a Goode penalty and Leicester would not have been unhappy, scorewise, after an Élissalde penalty, to be 14-8 down at half-time.

Nor to be within three points, courtesy of Goode, after Fritz had taken out Lewis Moody. And they would have been doubly happy when the television judge, John Sheehan, would not sanction a snatched touchdown by Vincent Clerc after Seru Rabeni had been meandering back to cover a kick ahead.

But that sort of let-off does not happen twice and, after weathering a bit of a Leicester storm, Clerc was once again on hand to be given the Sheehan nod this time. Élissalde missed the conversion but extended the lead to 11 after a collapsed scrum. With fog rolling over the stands and down to the pitch to match the steam rising from the packs, Élissalde handed over to Kelleher for the last few minutes, but, by then, Leicester were in jail anyway.

Toulouse: Tries Poitrenaud, Clerc; Drop goals Courrent, Élissalde; Penalties Élissalde 2. Leicester: Try Varndell; Penalties Goode 2.

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, Y Jauzion, F Fritz (M Kunavore, 72), C Heymans; V Courrent, J-P Elissalde (B Kelleher, 75); D Human, W Servat (V Lacombe, 72), O Hasan (S Perugini, 30), F Pelous (capt; G Lamboley, h-t), P Albacete (R Millo-Chluski, 11), Y Nyanga (M Medard, 76), T Dusautoir, S Sowerby.

Leicester: G Murphy; S Rabeni, O Smith, D Hipkiss, T Varndell (A Mauger, 65); A Goode, F Murphy (B Youngs, 75); M Ayerza, G Chuter (B Kayser, 75), M Castrogiovanni, J Hamilton, B Kay, M Corry (capt), L Moody, J Crane.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).