Toulouse 41 Cardiff Blues 17: Elissalde ensures Blues are doomed to lose

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The Independent Online

The scoreline may have been harsh on the Cardiff Blues but the message from Toulouse to the rest of Europe was crystal clear.

The three-time European champions will face London Irish in a semi-final at Twickenham. The Blues stayed in sight of their hosts for as long as they could and tries from Jason Spice and Ben Blair kept them in with a chance until Toulouse, boosted by 18 points from the fly-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, found an extra gear.

Tries in the final 10 minutes from Vincent Clerc, his 27th in the Heineken Cup, and Jean Bouilhou, followed by Cédric Heymans' drop goal, broke the 40-point mark.

The Blues flanker Martyn Williams said: "The scoreline did not reflect the game but it did prove that we were second best out there. We did well to keep in the game after conceding early points but to be brutally honest, it always felt as though we were just clinging on and in the last 20 minutes we struggled when they stepped up their physicality.

"It's disappointing and a little surprising that there isn't a Welsh team in the last four but Toulouse have now got to be favourites for the cup. They were clinical and have the players to go all the way."

Cardiff trailed 16-10 at the end of an incident-packed first half that swung one way then the other, though they must have feared the worst when Maxime Médard cantered over for a try after just 41 seconds.

The Wales centre Tom Shanklin had a first half to forget that began when his blocked kick left the Blues horribly exposed and Médard had plenty of time to race on to Maleli Kunavore's kick up field. The brass band in the stands struck up and the sell-out 35,000 crowd found its voice as Elissalde stroked over the conversion and soon after a penalty. It was just the start the Blues had not wanted.

However, they recovered manfully and were back on track when the scrum-half Jason Spice capitalised on Tom James' break to squeeze over. It was an eventful afternoon for Spice, who ended the half in the sin-bin.

Toulouse were not immune to indiscipline and Heymans' blunder with a rashly taken line-out almost put in Jamie Roberts. It also earned the French full-back a yellow card after he attempted, illegally, to make amends.

Blair offered the Blues hope with a 67th-minute try but Toulouse are irresistible when they get it right and after the visitors lost the forward power of Paul Tito to injury they were always fire-fighting.

The Toulouse scrum-half, Byron Kelleher, said: "We're very excited to be going to Twickenham. We don't know a lot about London Irish but they played a smart game against Perpignan and deserve respect for reaching this far."

Toulouse: Tries Médard, Kunavore, Clerc, Bouilhou; Conversions Elissalde 3; Penalties Elissalde 3; Drop goals Elissalde, Heymans. Cardiff Blues: Tries Spice, Blair; Conversions Blair 2; Penalty Blair.

Toulouse: C Heymans; V Clerc, M Kunavore, Y Jauzion, M Médard; JB Elissalde (V Courrent, 73), B Kelleher; D Human, W Servat, S Perugini, F Pelous (capt), P Albacete, Y Nyanga (J Bouilhou, 57), T Dusautoir, S Sowerby.

Cardiff Blues: B Blair, J Roberts, T Shanklin (J Robinson, 60), G Thomas, T James; D Flanagan (N Robinson, 62), J Spice; G Jenkins, G Williams, T Filise, D Jones, P Tito (S Morgan, 52), M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush (capt).

Referee: W Barnes (England).

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