By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
HARLEQUINS’ 14-MATCH winning run had to come to an end at some point and there’s no shame in losing to Europe’s most successful professional side. The Londoners have dominated the Aviva Premiership all season but they could not get the better of the mighty Toulouse at the Stoop and failed to even collect a losing bonus point as they lost their Heineken Cup tie 21-10.
Quins were outmuscled by a powerful Toulouse pack. The back row featured three France internationals – Yannick Nyanga, Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles, a real beast at No 8 – while any side that can leave William Servat on the bench clearly has impressive credentials.
The Toulouse backs were just as intimidating, with Luke McAlister, Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz up quick in defence and knocking back their opponents. Quins missed their first-choice centre pairing of Jordan Turner-Hall and George Lowe, who both make their presence felt in defence as well as attack.
Quins’ cause wasn’t helped by George Clancy’s refereeing of the breakdown, but at this level teams need to adapt to the officials and play to the whistle – something that the home side took too long to do and Toulouse were able to take advantage when penalties were awarded.
The battle at the breakdown meant Quins struggled to get the quick ball on which their attacking game thrives and when they did manage to string together phases, the next pass often went to ground or the ball was turned over. Toulouse on the other hand were clinical when given a sniff and Quins were fortunate to only concede two tries.
Quins director of rugby Conor O’Shea believes that this game provided a prime example of the intensity needed in Europe’s premier club competition and thinks it will prove to be a good learning experience for his side.
“The right side one,” said O’Shea. “It was incredibly physical, we couldn’t win the gain-line battle and we made a few mistakes. It was a very, very physical Toulouse side, they stopped us on the gain-line and we didn’t get the quick ball that we like. That’s what you have to learn at this level.
“In games like that we need to be more accurate in what we do and find ways of being physical. They really attacked the breakdown with unbelievable ferocity – they came here with their game heads on and gave us the respect we deserved after winning 14 games in a row.
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“We have to get used to playing at this level and have to understand what’s needed when playing big games like this on a regular basis. We’re not a bad side now we’ve lost a game, just as we weren’t a great side when we were winning games.”
The next test for this side is a trip to Toulouse on Sunday. So can they learn quickly enough from this first defeat of the season to turn things around in France eight days’ time?