Toulouse battle past Sale
January 24, 2010
Toulouse's Frederic Michalak is tackled by Sale's Charlie Hodgson
© Getty Images
Toulouse booked a home quarter-final in this season's Heineken Cup with a 19-13 victory over Sale Sharks in their Pool 5 clash at Edgeley Park.
The French side's hard-fought victory set up a showdown with Top 14 rivals Toulouse in the last eight when the competition resumes in April while defeat for Sale - combined with Cardiff Blues' victory over Harlequins - ended the Sharks' hopes of claiming a place in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
The two sides played out a tight first half with two penalties from Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson cancelled out by two drop goals from Toulouse No.10 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde. The visitors edged ahead in the second half thanks to a try from hooker Virgile Lacombe and although centre Matthew Tait crossed for the hosts the boot of Elissalde saw Toulouse home.
Stripped of the services of injured scrum-half Dwayne Peel, the Sharks opted for Richard Wigglesworth at No.9 while hooker Mahonri Schwalger, lock Chris Jones and flanker Luke Abraham were part of a reshuffled pack. Frederic Michalak came in for Byron Kelleher at scrum-half for Toulouse while Louis Picamoles and Gregory Lamboley replaced Shaun Sowerby and Jean Bouilhou in the back row.
Requiring a win to stand any chance of progressing to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, the home side began strongly and were unlucky not to open the scoring early on with impressive No.8 Sisa Koyamaibole denied a score thanks to a desperate tackle from Toulouse wing Vincent Clerc. Jones then stole the first Toulouse lineout forcing the French side to give away a penalty that Hodgson converted from in front of the posts.
Michalak made a mess of an attempted drop goal soon after but his side's cause was helped when a moment of madness from Koyamaibole resulted in a yellow card. The Fijian was guilty of taking Michalak out off the ball in front of referee Alain Rolland leaving him with no option. Elissalde then levelled the scores with a sweetly-struck drop goal but Sale weathered Koyamaibole's absence and took the lead once more with Hodgson notching his second penalty midway through the half.
Toulouse began to take control of the contest in terms of territory and possession but they were frustrated by the home side with some desperate defence denying Clerc after some good work from centre Yann David. However, the pressure was building on the Sharks and lock Jones was the second Sale player to see yellow after he was penalised at a ruck. Toulouse chose to kick the penalty to touch but Elissalde ensured they left the Sale 22 with points as he knocked over his second drop goal just seconds before half-time.
Sale fullback Nick Macleod gifted Toulouse an attacking platform in the opening minute of the second half and from the resulting lineout Lacombe barged his way over for the first try of the game. Elissalde's conversion gave Toulouse a 13-6 lead and kept them on course for a home quarter-final.
A cross field run from Toulouse fullback Clement Poitrenaud soon caused more trouble for Sale with centre Yannick Jauzion adding some muscle to the attack. But his pass to Clerc gave the winger little room for manoeuvre and he was bundled into touch. Wigglesworth then looked to relieve the pressure with a chip and chase but the move was brought to a sudden halt by Clerc whose body-check was deemed worthy of the game's third yellow card.
The Frenchman's departure coincided with the return of Jones but Sale failed to capitalise on the numerical advantage and instead it was Toulouse who extended their lead with a simple penalty from Elissalde.
To their credit, Sale raised their game and a strong run from replacement Anitele'a Tuilagi sucked in four defenders before Wigglesworth found lock Dean Schofield on a great line but the move broke down in the final third. The Premiership side were soon pressing again with Koyamaibole wreaking havoc again before Tait powered through a gap before forcing his way over for a try. Hodgson's conversion brought them within range but Elissalde steadied the Toulouse nerves with another penalty as the game entered the final ten minutes.
With the clock ticking down, Hodgson kicked a penalty to the corner for the lineout but the ball was scrambled away and with it went Sale's chance of a late turnaround.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton