Toulouse break Connacht's heart and now seek revenge

AFP
by AFP

Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir will be on a personal as well as professional revenge mission when the French giants face Munster for a place in the European Champions Cup semi-finals.

The four-time winners squeezed into the last eight on Sunday with a 19-10 victory against Connacht, shattering the Irish team's dreams of making the quarter-finals for the first time.

But the win was only enough to guarantee qualification as a best runner-up, sending Toulouse to Thomond Park in Limerick to face Munster, the 2006 and 2008 champions.

It will be a painful visit for the 35-year-old Dusautoir, who played for Biarritz in the 2006 final and then Toulouse when the Irish got the better of him again in the championship match two years later.

"Munster is the heart of Irish rugby with its fervour," said Dusautoir.

"I grew up playing against Munster, I lost two European Cup finals against them with (Anthony) Foley, (Ronan) O'Gara. - Thierry Dusautoir

"It's a long road in the tournament before we can think about rejoicing but the European Cup has shown that we can compete against the finest teams."

Toulouse ended Pool 2 action on 18 points, the same as Connacht, to make the last eight for the first time in three years.

But it was a close call with the French club going through courtesy of a better head-to-head record against their Irish opponents.

Wasps, the 2004 and 2007 champions, claimed top spot in the group after a six-try 41-27 win at whipping boys Zebre.

The other quarter-finals on the first weekend of April will see top seeds Clermont host French rivals and three-time champions Toulon.

Leinster, also winners on three occasions, play Wasps while defending champions Saracens face first-time quarter-finalists Glasgow.
Toulouse will face Munster for a place in the European Champions Cup semi-finals. Photo: AFP.Toulouse, champions in 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2010, had started the day in third spot in Pool 2, four points behind Connacht and three off Wasps in second place.

But they stormed out of the blocks at their Stade Ernest Wallon home with Gael Fickou grabbing a fifth-minute try converted by Jean-Marc Doussain.

By the 20th minute they were 14-0 to the good with winger Arthur Bonneval adding a second converted try after a fine breakaway by full-back Yoann Huget.

Struggling Connacht finally got on the board courtesy of a Craig Ronaldson penalty just before the interval.

Veteran Australian forward Joe Tekori grabbed Toulouse's third try early in the second period as the French edged closer to a crucial offensive bonus point which would come with a fourth try.

This time Doussain failed with the extras as his kick came back off the left upright.

No 8 John Muldoon then breathed life back into Connacht hopes, piling in from close range on 55 minutes after a turnover with Ronaldson adding the extras to cut the deficit to 19-10 and leave them two points short of a losing bonus point and a spot in the last eight.

Connacht laid siege to the Toulouse line as the minutes ticked down but Sebastien Bezy relieved the pressure with an interception inside the 22m line and kicked clear to break Irish hearts.

Wasps sent Zebre to a sixth defeat in six matches but they did not have it all their own way in Italy.

Zebre led 13-3 at one stage but their challenge fizzled out when hooker Oliviero Fabiani was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on the half-hour mark.

With a one-man advantage, Wasps ran in three tries through Ashley Johnson, Danny Cipriani and Elliot Daly before the break for a 22-13 lead.
Danny Cipriani scored a try in Wasps win over Zebre. Photo: AFP.Johnson, Christian Wade and Nathan Hughes added further tries in the second period as Wasps claimed a bonus point win, leaving Zebre licking the wounds of an 18th defeat in the tournament.

"When you get through to this stage of Europe there are no easy games and we understand the challenge ahead at Leinster," said Wasps' England international lock Joe Launchbury.

STANDINGS

2016-2017 European Champions Cup

Pool 1

Munster 24 Qualified

Glasgow 19 Qualified

Leicester 8

Racing 92 5

Pool 2

Wasps 22 Qualified

Toulouse 18 Qualified

Connacht

Zebre 0

Pool 3

Saracens 24 Qualified

Toulon 16 Qualified

Scarlets 11

Sale 4

Pool 4

Leinster 23 Qualified

Montpellier 16

Castres 12

Northampton 9

Pool 5

Clermont 26 Qualified

Bordeaux 14

Exeter 12

Ulster 10

The Champions Cup quarter-finals on weekend of April 1

Clermont (France) v Toulon (France) 

Leinster (Ireland) v Wasps (England)

Saracens (England) v Glasgow (Scotland)

Munster (Ireland) v Toulouse (France)

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