Heineken Champions Cup: Cardiff Rugby 7-39 Toulouse
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|Heineken Champions Cup: Pool B|
|Cardiff (7) 7|
|Tries: Adams Cons: Tovey|
|Toulouse (20) 39|
|Tries: Jelonch, Ahki. Dupont, Bonneval, Tekori Cons: Ntamack 4 Pens: Ntamack 2|
A makeshift Cardiff side did themselves proud with a spirited display in defeat against European champions Toulouse.
Without 42 players due to quarantine, injury and suspension, Cardiff took a shock lead with Josh Adams' try.
But Toulouse hit back as Anthony Jelonch and Pita Ahki crossed to put the visitors 20-7 up at half-time.
World Rugby player of the year Antoine Dupont was at his dazzling best as he added a third try and created a fourth for Arthur Bonneval.
Young full-back Jacob Beetham, one of 11 Cardiff debutants, was sent off for a high tackle on Baptiste Germain late on, before Joe Tekori scored Toulouse's fifth try.
Defeat was inevitable for Cardiff given the extremely difficult hand they had been dealt, but they rose to the challenge admirably with a wholehearted performance which drew a standing ovation from a loud and appreciative Arms Park crowd.
The home fans, vocal in their support throughout, recognised what a mismatch this was. On paper, there could scarcely have been a greater gulf in resources between the two sides.
Reigning champions and five-time winners of this competition Toulouse came fully loaded with a stellar line-up which included Dupont and his France international half-back partner Romain Ntamack.
Cardiff, by contrast, were without 32 players who had been forced to quarantine upon their return from South Africa, as well as a further 10 due to injury and suspension.
As a result, they had to cobble together a combination of academy and semi-professional players to fulfil the fixture, along with their six Wales internationals who had not travelled to South Africa.
With most of Cardiff's first-team coaching staff still self-isolating as well, academy boss Gruff Rees was placed in temporary charge of what he described as a group of "misfits" eager to grasp this opportunity to test themselves against the best in Europe.
Cardiff's shadow team were fearless, defending robustly and forcing turnovers through the masterly breakdown work of Olly Robinson, James Botham and captain Ellis Jenkins.
The hosts attacked whenever possible too, with scrum-half Tomos Williams and wing Dan Fish breaking the game up and increasing the tempo by taking quick-tap penalties, one of which from Fish led to the opening try.
Willis Haloholo's kick ahead turned the Toulouse defence and forced Maxime Medard to concede a scrum five metres out from his own try line, giving Cardiff the ideal attacking platform to send Adams hurtling over under the posts.
With 21 minutes played, Cardiff led 7-6 and dared to dream of causing one of the greatest upsets in European club rugby history.
They were soon brought back down to earth, however, as Dupont inspired a clinical Toulouse response.
The scrum-half broke from his own half and slalomed his way towards the Cardiff 22 before passing to Ntamack, who then had Jelonch on his shoulder for a simple run-in.
Dupont was the architect of Toulouse's second try as well, again counter-attacking from his own half and using strength, pace and ingenuity to beat Cardiff's defenders, before Ahki broke a tackle from Theo Cabango to cross for a converted try which put the visitors 20-7 up at half-time.
Cardiff did not relent in the second half - but there was little any team in the world could have done to shackle man of the match Dupont in this form.
The magician scored Toulouse's third try with a vicious fend and sharp finish, before creating their fourth with a cross-field kick which found Bonneval.
It was a measure of how well Cardiff had applied themselves that it took Toulouse 67 minutes to secure their bonus point.
Replacement Tekori added a late fifth try but nothing could detract from Cardiff's stirring performance and the pride of their supporters on what was an uplifting occasion at the Arms Park.
Cardiff caretaker coach Gruff Rees: "We were in the game at certain moments but then you're done by three or four class moments by the world player of the year [Dupont].
"It's been a remarkable effort and I'm just chuffed we put some good rugby on show. We made it scary for them [Toulouse] and that's something we can be proud of.
"There's so many moments to embrace about the day. We are involved in high-performance rugby but there was a Corinthian spirit about what we did today."
Cardiff: Jacob Beetham; Theo Cabango, Josh Adams, Willis Halaholo, Dan Fish; Jason Tovey, Tomos Williams; Rowan Jenkins, Iestyn Harris, Will Davies-King, Alun Lawrence, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins (capt.), Olly Robinson, James Botham.
Replacements: Evan Yardley, Joe Cowell, Geraint James, Rhys Anstey, Alex Everett, Ethan Lloyd, Ioan Evans, Ryan Wilkins.
Toulouse: Maxime Medard; Arthur Bonneval, Sofiane Guito, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romaine Ntamack, Antione Dupont; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Charlie Faumuina, Thibaud Flament, Emmanuel Meafou, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Selevasio Tolofua.
Replacements: Julien Marchand, Rodrigue Neti, Dorian Aldegheri, Iosefa Tekori, Yannick Youyouette, Antone Miquel, Baptiste Germain, Juan Cruz Mallia.
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Michael Hudson & John Meredith (England)
TMO: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
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Well done Channel 4….. !
Dupont just seems to have so much time on the ball and has got the power to breaks tackles, he was the difference
But every time I see him ref I am amazed at how much he ignores, and gets wrong even with 2 ars and a tmo!
‘Didn’t c it’ with a grin on his face when the whole crowd saw the knock on in the first half!