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Saturday, 12 October, 2002, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Toulouse too good for Irish
Brendan Venter
Exiles coach Venter made his first start of the season
Toulouse 28-23 London Irish

Even the return of the inspirational Brendan Venter could not save London Irish from a debut defeat in the Heineken Cup.

The Exiles' player-coach made a long-awaited return to the side, only to be sin-binned in the second half and see his team outscored by three tries to one.

Irish produced one of their better displays of a disappointing season.

But Toulouse, inaugural winners of the competition, had too much know-how and the sharper cutting edge.

  Match facts
Toulouse 28
Tries: I Maka, Clerc (2)
Con: Elissalde (2)
Pens: Elissalde (2), Michalak
L Irish 23
Try: Burrows
Pens: Everitt (5)
DG: Everitt

Number eight Isitolo Maka scored to keep the French side in touch before the break.

And flying wing Vincent Clerc touched down twice in the second half to kill off Irish hopes.

Venter's powers of inspiration appeared intact as Irish dominated territorially in the opening stages.

And they deservedly edged an enterprising first half 12-11.

However, despite Venter's influence in midfield, the Exiles had to rely on the boot of Barry Everitt for their points.

The stand-off kicked his side 9-0 ahead in the first quarter before Toulouse began to show signs of a revival.

Jean-Baptiste Elissalde notched a penalty before Maka scored the game's first try in the half's closing stages.

Exiles scrum-half Darren Edwards was penalised for holding on and when Toulouse opted for a line-out, Maka rolled off the back to crash over.

Irish began the second half at whirlwind pace, and only some last-gasp defending kept the Toulouse line intact.

Barry Everitt was on target for Irish
Everitt had a good day with the boot
Paul Sackey - twice - and Paul Gustard were both denied and all Irish had to show for 10 minutes' pressure was another Everitt penalty.

The Exiles would then discover that at this level that is not enough.

Venter was sin-binned for a second high tackle, Elissalde brought the deficit back to a point and then Clerc struck with a crucial try.

Toulouse created an overlap on halfway and the wing outpaced Geoff Appleford to his own kick ahead.

Minutes later Clerc's pace again proved too hot for Irish to handle.

This time he outstripped the visitors' cover to touch down Michalak's chip.

Elissalde's conversion made the score 28-15 and ended the Exiles' dream of a winning debut in Europe's top tier.

Nick Burrows scored a late consolation try and Everitt an injury-time penalty, but ultimately Toulouse's greater experience proved the difference.

Venter insisted afterwards that his yellow-carding was the game's turning point.

But he said: "I go for the ball, not the man, and I never intended to be penalised."

And he added: "The performance put a smile back on the faces of the players and that's what we needed most at this time to give us confidence in our ability."


Toulouse: Poitreneau; Ntamack, Debrosse, Garbajosa, Clerc; Elissalde, Michalak; Collazo, Bru, Lecouls, Gerard, Pelous, Bouilhou, Labit, I Maka.
Replacements: Poux, Servat, Brennan, F. Maka, Delaigue, Heymans, Marfaing.

London Irish: Horak; Sackey, Appleford, Venter, Bishop; Everitt, Edwards; Hatley, Drotske, Hardwick, Strudwick, Casey, Danaher, Dawson, Gustard.
Replacements: Martens, Mapletoft, Burrows, Flavin, Burke, Worsley, Durant.

Referee: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)


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