French Disappointment

The Cell C Sharks’ promising Heineken Champions Cup campaign came to a disappointing end against Stade Toulousain in Toulouse on Saturday evening as the French blew the visitors away in the second half to register a 54-20 victory.

They showed why they are the most successful team in Heineken Cup history as they held off a determined effort from the Cell C Sharks in the first half, but were simply too good in the second half.

Clear blue skies greeted the teams, with the mercury hovering in the low 20s and some exciting rugby was played by both sides.

A yellow card for a direct head clash on Makazole Mapimpi saw the hosts down to 14 men in the eighth minute and Curwin Bosch opened the scoring with the resultant penalty after a dominant and enterprising start from the men in Black & White.

However, the five-time champions weren’t going to take the blow lying down, particularly not at home, and they struck back with some focus, eventually earning a penalty to level the scores by the conclusion of the first quarter.

But then came one of the tries of the season, both kickers giving the ball air, and in broken play, Bosch suddenly sensed a gap after taking off inside his 22, took it, sent the ball to Grant Williams and with neither player having a hand laid on them, the scrumhalf was too quick as he went over for the first try of the game, with Bosch converting.

Flamboyant at times, Toulouse had to rely on a scrum penalty to cut the deficit after their efforts were being cut short by inaccuracies or some powerful defence, with Rohan Janse van Rensburg earning a couple of penalties for outstanding work at the breakdown, killing the home side’s momentum.

But they finally made good with a high tempo attack that came off a strong maul and when the ball was sent to the wing, he managed to score in the corner, with the touchline conversion going wide as Toulouse took an 11-10 lead with just two minutes of the entrancing half remaining.

The hosts added a further three points for some indiscipline at the maul to lead 14-10 at half-time.

They had their tails up and came out into the second half showing immense confidence in everything they did, scoring their second try of the match inside the opening 10 minutes of the second half, the conversion under the posts pushing them into a 21-10 lead.

But a brave fightback saw the Cell C Sharks hammering away at the tryline, Toulouse earning a team warning for repeated penalties and then the ball going out wide and Boeta Chamberlain showing his class and pace to score in the corner, with Bosch converting from out wide to cut the lead to four points and silence the less-than-hospitable home crowd.

Toulouse struck almost immediately finding space out wide in broken play to score their third try with the final quarter left to play but this time it was the Cell C Sharks who weren’t finished, Bosch again sparking a strong attack, Mapimpi making a break and feeding Williams who went over. Bosch was in the process of converting when the TMO ruled that the try had come off a forward pass and the score was reversed.

Sadly Rohan Janse van Rensburg was stretched off the field after his tr-saving effort, but the Cell C  Sharks were back on the scoreboard with a penalty to cut the lead to 26-20 with 15 minutes remaining.

Toulouse didn’t waste any time scoring their fourth try, winning back possession after losing it and then a lineout maul to position themselves into a match-winning situation, stretching the lead to 13 points.

Things went completely awry for the Cell C Sharks with an attack that lost all momentum, the ball was lost and Toulouse struck decisively to push themselves into a 40-20 lead in the final 10 minutes, with another try added exploiting broken play and disorganised defence.

There was a final try to close out the game.