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Toulouse stunned at rapturous Kingsholm

20 Jan 2012
Toulouse stunned at rapturous Kingsholm

Gloucester beat Heineken Cup heavyweights Toulouse 34-24 at Kingsholm with a brilliant performance inspired by their try-hungry backs.

Full back Jonny May led the way with a double, while England wing Charlie Sharples and Fijian flanker Akapusi Qera also crossed and fly-half Freddie Burns booted 14 points. Four-time European champions Toulouse, though, still progress to the quarter-finals as Pool Six winners after Harlequins lost by a point against Connacht in Galway.

Wing Timoci Matanavou touched down twice for the visitors, while skipper Thierry Dusautoir scored early on and fly-half Lionel Beauxis added three conversions and a penalty. But they were outplayed by a Gloucester team that despite already being eliminated from the quarter-final equation, blew them apart.

Young backs like May, Sharples and Burns had a field day, performing with a thrilling sense of adventure and creativity that had Toulouse's stamp all over it.

Gloucester delivered comfortably their best performance of the season, claiming a bonus point in the process, although it was too little too late in terms of this season's Heineken Cup following home and away defeats to Quins after losing in Toulouse.

For their part, Toulouse will limp, rather than swagger into the last eight for a 13th time, and Gloucester's performance exposed weaknesses in their armoury under pressure.

Gloucester, who had no chance of reaching either the Heineken or second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup quarter finals, made one change following last weekend's narrow defeat against Harlequins as prop Rupert Harden was recalled.

French World Cup wing Vincent Clerc, who had been due to be on the Toulouse bench, failed a late fitness test, but the visitors still arrived at Kingsholm boasting a team bristling with Test match stars. And Toulouse gained an immediate advantage when Gloucester prop Nick Wood was sin-binned in the opening minute by Irish referee George Clancy for reckless use of the boot.

Toulouse, though, fell 7-0 behind just three minutes later following a dreadful defensive blunder by Matanavou. Matanavou made a hash of clearing the ball behind his own line, proceeding to kick it straight at May, who accepted the gift and touched down. Burns added the conversion, but Matanavou then showed his searing pace in attack, leaving Gloucester's defence for dead and setting up an attacking platform from which Dusautoir prospered.

France's World Cup captain galloped 45 metres to the line without a Gloucester player touching him, and Beauxis' conversion continued a frantic opening eight minutes that produced two tries and a yellow card. But Toulouse soon settled and started moving through the gears, going ahead through a Beauxis penalty before Matanavou finished off a crisp passing move to cross side out, with Beauxis again converting.

Gloucester, despite the boost of May's early score, were 10 points adrift inside the opening quarter and they needed a concerted response against quality opponents sooner, rather than later. It arrived 12 minutes before the break when May found Sharples, whose searing pace took him into Toulouse's 22 before flanker Alasdair Strokosch kept a thrilling move alive and Burns' delicious scoring pass saw Qera cash in.

Burns slotted the conversion, cutting Gloucester's deficit to just three points and reigniting a possibility of Toulouse not reaching the knockout stages for only a fourth time since Heineken Cup rugby began in 1995.

Gloucester, their tails up, made a flying start to the second period when another flowing attack again unlocked Toulouse's defence and saw them go back in front. Burns had the vision to move possession wide from deep, then an exquisitely-placed Mike Tindall kick was gathered by May and Sharples finished things off.

Burns maintained his 100 per cent conversion success rate, although only after Clancy consulted the television match official when neither assistant referee raised his flag. Replays showed Burns' strike crept over the bar after striking a post.

The fly half then slotted a penalty to make it 24-17, and Toulouse faced a make-or-break 20 minutes, yet they hit back like champions after Beauxis' midfield break set up a second try Matanavou.

Beauxis dusted himself down to land an angled conversion, putting Toulouse back in the Pool Six driving seat, but Gloucester staged a grandstand finish through another Burns penalty and May's second try, leaving their illustrious opponents down and out.

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