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Dupont steers Toulouse into Champions Cup final to leave Harlequins with regret
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Dupont steers Toulouse into Champions Cup final to leave Harlequins with regret

Another gallant English defeat, another tale of the Premiership’s plucky losers but ultimately another tinged with regret. Toulouse booked their place in the final to secure a widely expected showdown with Leinster but, just as was the case with Northampton 24 hours earlier, Harlequins will wonder what might have been.

They had Toulouse on the ropes for large spells of the second half, firing freely from their slingshots without landing the telling blow between the eyes of one of European rugby’s giants.

Credit Harlequins for the manner in which they fought back from 31-12 at half-time. They vowed to swing the bat once more and tries from Cadan Murley and Tyrone Green brought them back to within five points against a side with significantly more resources. They were in such ascendancy that had they managed to get their noses in front, a victory to eclipse even their “­Bristanbul” ­heroics would have been on the cards.

As it was Jack Walker’s 66th-minute yellow card for a head-on-head clearout finally gave the hosts some respite but for the second day ­running, here were favourites breathing a huge sigh of relief at keeping the Premiership upstarts – for whom Chandler Cunningham-South, Tyrone Green and André Esterhuizen in particular shone – at bay.

“Proud of the group but at the moment very disappointed,” said the Harlequins captain, Stephan Lewies. “I think against a team like Toulouse if you give them 28 points on a ­platter it’s going to be tough. The way we came out in the second half, we’re really proud of that, we went back to being Quins, if we could have taken away a few of those errors, then [you think] what might have been.”

There is no shame in defeat, more frustration at their first-half ­mistakes that were ruthlessly punished, and, as they have demonstrated throughout this season’s ­competition, ­Toulouse have a gear that no one can live with. Their 15-minute period at the end of the first half, in which Antoine Dupont scored two tries, proved ­pivotal. They will look forward to a final against Leinster later this month and a shot at a sixth title. Like Leinster they have things they need to tidy up on but there are times when they are untouchable.

Juan Cruz Mallía celebrates sealing Toulouse’s place in the final with a tryView image in fullscreen

Both these sides like to play and there were times when both ­showcased their full armoury of skills. The difference is that Toulouse boast a power and a ferocity at the breakdown that Harlequins cannot match.

Time and again in the first half they were shoved off the ball and while Harlequins have canny operators such as Will Evans, they do not have someone like Emmanuel Meafou, the 23-stone second-row behemoth. They do not have a hooker with the pace and power of Peato Mauvaka and ultimately could not live with the ruthlessness displayed by Toulouse once they had turned the ball over.

Then there is Dupont who was in the mood from the word go. There was an early break down the left, passes out the back and, pinpoint kicks off both feet and two tries – each as a result of his ability to be in the right place at the right time.

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Harlequins were competitive during a breathless opening half an hour. Toulouse had the opening try, a well-worked move finished in the left corner by Matthis Lebel but a scrum penalty near their own line gave ­Harlequins a foothold and after patiently going through the phases, Marcus Smith burst through a gap and over.

Mauvaka registered Toulouse’s next try from a driving maul but with Cunningham-South carrying hard and Louis Lynagh somewhat fortuitously adjudged to have pulled off a 50:22, Harlequins responded in kind through Evans.

From the restart, however, ­Harlequins could not exit and Danny Care’s hurried pass to Cunningham-South was pinched by Thibaud Flament who dotted down – a sucker punch for the visitors. A few minutes later and another mistake – this time an overthrown lineout – and Dupont was soon over for his first after a wonderful step and well-measured grubber from the impressive Paul Costes. Dupont had his second before the interval after another break from Mauvaka leaving Harlequins hanging on at the break.

A fast start to the second half for Harlequins brought quick rewards with Murley’s acrobatic finish in the left-hand corner and the visiting supporters were daring to believe when Green ran an irrepressible line to go over next to the posts. A bit more sangfroid and Harlequins might have found the fifth try they needed to get ahead but Walker’s yellow card burst their bubble and ­Toulouse regathered before striking in the right-hand corner through Juan Cruz Mallía to settle matters.

Source: theguardian.com