Leicester dig deep to edge out Toulouse
January 20, 2013
Leicester's Niall Morris is denied a try in the corner
© PA Photos
Leicester battled to a 9-5 victory over Toulouse in their crucial Heineken Cup clash at Welford Road on Sunday to book a place in the quarter-finals and send the four-time champions into the Amlin Challenge Cup.
The Tigers will be away to Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon in early April, where the weather should be considerably warmer than on an Arctic east midlands afternoon when Toulouse saw their hopes of a fifth European title plunged into cold storage.
Fly-half Toby Flood was the Leicester matchwinner, making light of punishing conditions by kicking three penalties, while Toulouse marksmen Lionel Beauxis and Luke McAlister crucially missed five shots at goal between them.
Flood, though, could have gone from hero to villain when he was sin-binned by referee George Clancy for a deliberate knock-on 12 minutes from time, but the Tigers held out by showcasing all their trademark resilience.
Toulouse wing Yann Huget scored the only try in a Pool Two encounter dominated by the incessant wintry weather, with Leicester ultimately joining their Aviva Premiership colleagues Harlequins and Saracens as quarter-finalists alongside Toulon, Munster, Ulster, Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier.
It was the first time since 2007 that Toulouse failed to progress from their group as Leicester thwarted them on the back of Flood's goalkicking accuracy and mighty contributions from forward warriors like Louis Deacon, Tom Youngs and Julian Salvi.
Leicester, unbeaten at Welford Road in the Heineken Cup since Munster beat them more than six years ago, suffered a late injury blow when their England centre Manu Tuilagi withdrew due to an ankle problem. Matt Smith replaced him.
One other change from the side held 15-15 by the Ospreys last weekend saw number eight Thomas Waldrom replace Jordan Crane as Tigers looked to avoid making a fourth pool stage exit in the past six seasons.
Toulouse had only missed out on the tournament's knockout phase three times since it began in 1995, and they paraded a stellar starting XV skippered by Thierry Dusautoir.
But it was Leicester who flew out of the blocks, going within inches of claiming a fifth-minute try after wing Adam Thompstone's searing midfield break.
Thompstone found his fellow wing Niall Morris on the overlap, but Morris lost control of the ball under pressure from Vincent Clerc's tackle as he attempted to touch down. Tigers, though, gained a penalty from the resulting scrum, and Flood found his range for an early 3-0 advantage.
Ground-staff added to the surreal conditions by sweeping the touchlines to keep them clear of snow, and an eventful opening quarter saw Beauxis miss two penalties in four minutes before Leicester flanker Steve Mafi went off injured.
Mafi pulled up like a sprinter when he damaged his hamstring chasing a kick, and Crane joined the action as Toulouse continued to enjoy territorial dominance. But the visitors then wasted a third penalty chance after McAlister took over from Beauxis, only to hit the post from just 30 metres out and allow Leicester another let-off.
Both teams displayed admirable ambition on a treacherous surface, and Toulouse thought they had posted the game's opening try five minutes before half-time. No.8 Louis Picamoles scattered the Leicester defence through a powerful run, but Tigers just got enough defenders around him to make any try ruling inconclusive and television match official Simon McDowall ruled in their favour.
Toulouse felt aggrieved, and Flood was in no mood to offer any sympathy, booting a superb penalty from just inside his own half that meant Leicester enjoyed a 9-0 interval advantage.
The visitors needed an early second-half score to get themselves back in the contest, and it arrived after 49 minutes when Tigers full-back Mathew Tait suffered a nightmare moment in defence.
McAlister sent a steepling kick in Tait's direction, and when he fumbled it Huget reacted quickest to slip and slither his way over for a try that slashed Leicester's lead.
Huget's touchdown cranked up the tension for a capacity 24,000 crowd, and with a result guaranteed in event of an abandonment once the game passed its 60-minute mark, the closing quarter promised no let-up.
Flood's yellow card meant frayed nerves, yet Leicester sealed the deal when Deacon and Geoff Parling combined to steal a 78th-minute lineout on Toulouse's throw and the Tigers could start their celebrations.
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill was understandably delighted with his side's performance. "It was a game when it was almost easier to play without the ball," Tigers rugby director Cockerill told Sky Sports 2. "They missed some kicks at goal, and to be fair to Toby he kicked that one just before half-time to give us a nine-point cushion.
"The effort at the end, those last two minutes with the crowd on their feet, they are magic moments. This team wants to make its own history. This club has a rich history and there is a lot said about players in other eras. Today, this team knocked Toulouse out of the Heineken Cup. We won a really tough pool, the players should be congratulated for that and we should get some credit for that."
Skipper Deacon said: "We had to dig deep towards the end - fair play to the lads. It was absolutely freezing out there. We needed it, we were at home and we don't lose many at home. The crowd was absolutely amazing, they backed us all the way, and we probably wanted it more in the end."
Looking ahead to his side's quarter-final trip to Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon, Cockerill said: "You would prefer to be at home, but we have got to get past Toulon. They are an immense side, a fantastic team. It is going to be a huge event for us and another huge day in Tigers' history."
Leicester's Toby Flood looks to secure the ball on a wintry day at Welford Road © PA Photos
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