Connacht walked away from their Champions Cup clash with Toulouse empty-handed following a 15-point loss in France.
Andy Friend’s side led on two occasions during the encounter and while they stayed in touch with the Top 14 champions for the majority of the game, tries from Jerome Kaino and Pita Ahki denied Connacht the losing bonus-point despite first-half tries from Tom Farrell and Caolin Blade.
Toulouse dominated the opening exchanges with their backline putting the Connacht defence under extreme pressure. They appeared to have opened the scoring after Sofiane Guitoune looked to have touched down in the corner but the TMO judged his foot to have been in touch.
Instead, it was the visitors who were first off the mark, though it was entirely against the run of play. Toulouse were caught on the back foot following a brilliant break by Ultan Dillane which allowed Tom Farrell to skip through to the try line. Conor Fitzgerald added the conversion to hand Connacht the lead after 12 minutes.
However, Toulouse could not be denied for long and within two minutes, they levelled the scoring. Thomas Ramos made a stunning break which set up support runner Sébastien Bézy for their opening try despite a decent effort from the retreating Connacht defence. That lead was extended when Ramos slotted a penalty midway through the first half.
Andy Friend’s side responded well to the French onslaught with Fitzgerald bringing play back into the opposition half while Toulouse’s ill-discipline gifted Connacht territory and momentum. As well as their concession of penalties, Toulouse’s shaky defence left them vulnerable and the visitors took full advantage. This time, it was Colby Fainga’a who produced a powerful run before offloading to Caolin Blade who registered the try on the occasion of his 100th appearance for the province.
Connacht were dealt a major blow minutes later when Fainga’a was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Romain Ntamack. Toulouse made full use of their numerical advantage when Yoann Huget grabbed their second try with five minutes remaining in the half. However, they were not able to add the conversion and so they lead at the break by a single point.
Toulouse immediately went on the attack in the second half but Connacht proved more than up for the task. Farrell forced a superb turnover deep inside his own half and the side moved the ball out of the danger area. Connacht retook the lead when Fitzgerald nailed a drop goal attempt and when they were awarded a penalty moments later, the momentum was well and truly with the Irish province.
Connacht failed to make the most of their opportunities and weren’t able to make Toulouse pay for their ill-discipline when Fitzgerald missed a long-range penalty that would have put them five points clear. Instead, it was Toulouse who crept back in front when Finlay Bealham was penalised for not releasing.
The home side struck for the killer blow in the 64th minute. Following a lineout, Toulouse bombarded the Connacht try line and after a number of phases, captain Jerome Kaino eventually got the ball over the try line. Ramos added the conversion leaving Connacht with a mountain to climb in the final quarter.
The side’s setpieces began to crumble as Toulouse stole two lineouts in the space of three minutes from the men in green. A slim opportunity presented itself with just over five minutes left to play when Matt Healy attempted to run onto a bouncing ball on the wing, however, it went into touch.
It was the home side who finished strongly when substitute Pita Ahki recorded the bonus-point try in the 81st minute before Ramos added the extras to seal the 15-point victory.
Connacht: Matt Healy, John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Kyle Godwin, Conor Fitzgerald, Caolin Blade; Peter McCabe, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Colby Fainga’a, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Matthew Burke, Finlay Bealham, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Angus Lloyd, Jack Carty, Peter Robb.
Toulouse: Thomas Ramos, Yoann Huget, Sofiane Guitoune, Lucas Tauzin, Maxime Médard, Romain Ntamack, Sébastien Bézy; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Charlie Faumuina, Richie Gray, Joe Tekori, Alban Placines, Rynhardt Elstadt, Jerome Kaino.
Replacements: Julien Marchand, Thomas du Toit, Dorian Aldegheri, Rory Arnold, Selevasio Tolofua, Francois Cros, Pita Ahki, Pierre Pages.