December 11 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe at Wembley
Friday, October 18, 2013
Heineken Cup Pool 3: Saracens 16 Toulouse 17
All good things must come to an end and for Saracens’ unblemished record it was by the slimmest and most painful of losing margins – the odd blade of painted grass at one end and a fingertip drop goal block at the other.
The brutal encounter which saw Toulouse blot their copybook after six consecutive victories to start the season will sting every bit as much as the one-point defeat at Wembley in front of the largest crowd ever assembled for a Heineken Cup pool game in Britain.
None of Sarries’ Premiership rivals this season have repelled as many of the Hendon outfit’s attacks and blunted so many of their weapons but, after the French side’s monstrous defence was breached early on by a stunning score from Chris Wyles - his second in successive games - they they shut up shop.
Toulouse are not the all-conquering four-time European kings for nothing and they did what their Top 14 rivals Toulon did last term, on their way to the continental crown, by beating Saracens at a home away from home, albeit in very different style.
Last season it was at the hands of English maestro Jonny Wilkinson in the semi-finals at rugby HQ in Twickenham, but here at the home of football it was gritty and ferocious from Toulouse, and while it was a case of different arena, the outcome remained the same.
Christopher Tolofua pegged Sarries back, scoring from a fearsome first half lineout drive and then, 10 minutes from time, Louis Picamoles sprung from the base of another big shove to graze the whitewash for the crucial second score. It allowed Jean-Marc Doussain to boot the all-important conversion for the slenderest of leads that Owen Farrell threatend to snatch away at the death before a Toulouse hand took the pace out of his drop goal attempt to seal Saracens’ fate.
Just as it began at Connacht seven days earlier, the early signs for Sarries were positive as they started off in rapid fashion. As in Galway, their opening score was another Wyles collectors’ item. From a Clement Poitrenaud fumble ball Duncan Taylor made the break before the US international and Chris Ashton passed it back and forth to each other with the centre racing over. Television Match Official Derek Bevan glanced at the replays for a forward pass but it was clear the two backs had executed the move to perfection, as did Farrell who fired over the extras.
That was first blood in the battle of the fly-halves as moments earlier his opposite number Luke McAlister had missed the first of three consecutive penalties, including one that crashed back off the post. And in what would be a wretched taste of Wembley for the Kiwi kicker he would exit before the half time interval with an injured arm.
Before that David Strettle left the Londoners fighting with one hand tied behind their back when he was rightly sent to the bin on 19 minutes for a foolish off-the-ball tackle from behind on Yannick Nyanga.
That handed the French side the impetus though, even if he had still been on the pitch, quite what the 13st 5lbs wing could have done to prevent Toulouse’s score is anybody’s guess, such was the pulverising push they responded with to dot down.
Last week at The Sportsground it had been influence of Connacht’s fleet-footed scrum-half Kieran Marmion that had curtailed Saracens’ opening salvo but at Wembley it was sheer brute strength.
Perhaps for the first time this season, the Londoners’ considerable bulk was made to look ordinary and they got a taste of the medicine they’d been prescribing to all-comers in the Premiership. Talofua stuffed the ball up his jumper while his pack colleagues shoved the hosts from their 22 to the whitewash where the prop flopped to the ground. Matt Stevens and Schalk Brits did their best to prevent the grounding but the TMO ruled otherwise and after a hat-trick of misses McAlister finally got on the board with the conversion to square the scores.
Farrell took two penalty attempts to restore Saracens’ lead before Strettle returned and on a rare occasion the Hendon side engineered an overlap out wide, Taylor couldn’t find the offload to set his team-mates on their way to the line.
In almost all other instances, the Top 14 side stopped at source the big ball-carriers in black and red – Jacques Burger and the Vunipola brothers – which left the backs trying to breach their defence by chasing kicks both high and low. Still Toulouse stood firm in defence.
And in attack the visitors showcased their lightning quick hands with offloads by the bucketload in the contact area that left Saracens scrambling to halt their march.
Admirably they did but there was always the sense that the French battering ram would eventually find a way through. Not before a further Farrell penalty widened the lead to leave Toulouse trailing 13-7 at the midway point was Saracens’.
Farrell was accurate once more from his kicking tee early in the second period and then was the unlikely hero in the second of two Alamo-like defensive rearguards from the Premiership leaders, rucking like a prop to relief some the pressure.
But the probing eventually told 10 minutes from time after a Doussain penalty narrowed the arrears and then Picamoles burrowed over, just about glancing the paint with the ball – a video referee decision which did not go down well with the home crowd. Doussain bisected the posts to edge Toulouse 17-16 in front and leave Saracens staring down the barrel of a first defeat this season.
With few options left captain Steve Borthwick instructed Farrell to aim for the posts after the French side were pinged just inside Sarries territory. His long-range punt dropped agonisingly under the crossbar, while after 22 injury time phases that had gained them little ground a last-ditch drop goal attempt clip a Toulouse fingernail to drop equally short and leave them with the unfamiliar and bitter taste of defeat.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Chris Wyles, Duncan Taylor (Joel Tomkins), David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth (Neil de Kock); Mako Vunipola (Rhys Gill), Schalk Brits (Jamie George), Matt Stevens (James Johnston), Steve Borthwick (c), Alistair Hargreaves (George Kruis), Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Ernst Joubert (Kelly Brown)
Replacements not used: Marcelo Bosch
Toulouse: Maxime Medard; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz (c), Clement Poitrenaud, Hosea Gear; Luke McAlister, Jean-Marc Doussain; Schalk Ferreira, Christopher Tolofua, Census Johnston, Yoann Maestri, Joe Tekori, Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir, Gillian Galan
Replacements (all used): Chiliboy Ralepelle, Gurthro Steenkamp, Yohan Montes, Gregory Lamboley, Romain Millo-Chluski, Jano Vermaak, Gael Fickou, Louis Picamoles