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Toulouse 37 London Irish 17: Noves unleashes cavalry and class to crush Irish sense of adventure

The final 20-point margin gave an accurate reading of a pulsating game which a near-capacity crowd saw turned into an almost 88-minute festival of entertainment, but the 500 or so faithful fans who had come to support the men from the Madejski Stadium could cheer a side going home with heads held high.

Irish's coach, Brian Smith, coping without his first-choice props and locks, also saw Riki Flutey drop out the night before. He then then lost Flutey's stand-in, Barry Everitt, and Mike Catt for the second half as Toulouse, who looked so disjointed against Ulster last week, revelled in summer-like sunshine. It was, said Smith, "the fastest game we've played this season.''

There were those who thought the Toulouse coach, Guy Noves, would fall back on the battering ram approach that has served him so well in the past. After all, with Frédéric Michalak and Jean-Frédéric Dubois unavailable for the No 10 shirt he had moved the physically imposing Yanick Jauzion up and replaced him with the considerable bulk of Gareth Thomas at inside centre.

The sound of their hooves could almost be heard above the drums at each end of the pitch - punctuated by a Spanish bullfighter's trumpet - but these were not stampedes. They were cavalry horses on the charge. Both sides showed constant willingness to run the ball, but while Irish had an admirable appetite for adventure, Toulouse had an extra relish for the kill.

The half-time score of 20-10 barely told the story. Such was the threat and skill of Toulouse that they rarely looked troubled, even after Delon Armitage ran through a defence yet to wake up in less than two minutes. Everitt converted and later added a penalty.

The first first-half try for Toulouse, who were helped by the return of scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, saw Jauzion initiate a move and the ball pass through the hands of Cédric Heymans and Florian Fritz before Jauzion finished the job off. The second saw four Toulouse players attacking an empty space 30 yards out. They took their time and the full-back Xavier Garbajosa took the try.

Garbajosa could have had a second less than five minutes into the second half, then Fritz ran unopposed for the line. All this produced the sort of confident swagger which makes French sides so dangerous.

Still, the Irish came back with a Kieran Roche try as Noves was making changes, believing the game was safe. As the triple winners of the Heineken Cup turned it on again, a deep-throated roar of approval greeted the final pushover try, by the replacement flanker Jean-Francois Montauriol.

Toulouse: Tries Jauzion, Garbajosa, Fritz, Montauriol; Conversions Elissalde 3, Courrent; Penalties Elissalde 3. London Irish: Tries Armitage, Roche; Conversions Everitt, Armitage; Penalty Everitt.

Toulouse: X Garbajosa; V Clerc, F Fritz, G Thomas, C Heymans; Y Jauzion, J-B Elissalde (V Courrent, 78); S Perugini, V Lacombe (Y Bru, 56), D Human (O Hasan, 33), R Millo-Chluski, P Albacete (B Baby, 75), T Dusautoir, F Maka (J-F Montauriol, 56), F Pelous (capt; G Lamboley, 62).

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, S Mapusua, M Catt, (capt; R Rees, 43), S Tagicakibau; B Everitt (G Tiesi, 40), P Hodgson; N Hatley (R Skuse, 57), D Paice (R Russell, 57), T Lea'aetoa, K Roche (G Johnson, 79), J Hudson, A MacCullen, D Danaher (O Magne, 40), P Murphy (J M Leguizaon, 66).

Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).