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Toulouse saves the day for French rugby

Latest update : 2008-04-06

Stade Toulousain became the only French rugby club to reach the European cup final four, after booking a place in the semis with a 41-17 home win over the Cardiff Blues. In Sunday's other quarter-final, Saracens beat Ospreys 19-10.

Former three-time champions Toulouse staked their credentials as real European Cup contenders with an impressive 41-17 win over Cardiff Blues in the competition's quarter-final here on Sunday.
  
With France scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde pulling the strings from stand-off with All Black Byron Kelleher inside him, Toulouse will move into a semi-final against London Irish at Twickenham full of confidence.
  
"We've got good fitness levels and good artillery that comes off the bench," said Kelleher. "They were very tired at the end.
  
"We put pressure on them and made them play in their half. It was a very intense game and it was played with maximum intensity."
  
Blues flanker Martyn Williams, who enjoyed yet another superb individual game, added: "They really turned the screw on us.
  
"We couldn't get the territory, and we couldn't get out of our own half. They're a very difficult team to defend against."
  
Cardiff suffered a disastrous start in front of a capacity 37,000-strong crowd at the Ernest-Wallon stadium, going 10-0 down in the first four minutes.
  
From the kick-off the Welsh side moved the ball left but an attempted grubber from centre Tom Shanklin rebounds of the legs of Toulouse counterpart Maleli Kunavore, who hacked through for Maxime Medard to touch down close to the uprights.
  
Elissalde was successful with the conversion and a long-term penalty shortly after.
  
Jason Spice hit back for the Blues in the 16th minute, the Kiwi scrum-half nipping over from short range after some good work down the left wing by Shanklin and Tom James.
  
Blair hit the extras and a later penalty, which was cancelled out by a neatly-taken Elissalde drop-goal to make the scores 16-10 in the home side's favour.
  
On the half-hour, Spice was yellow-carded for cynically killing the ball after seeing his own clearance kick charged down by impressive Argentine lock Patricio Albacete and Yannick Nyanga thunder close to the try line after gathering up the loose ball.
  
Elissalde missed with the penalty attempt while Cardiff stand-off Dai Flanagan then saw a drop-goal go centimetres wide at the stroke of half-time.
  
The French No 10 made no mistake after a tight first 20 minutes of the second period, however, nailing a second penalty after the Cardiff forwards collapsed a maul.
  
Toulouse upped the ante and the pressure told when ubiquitous full-back Cedric Heymans provided the link between Elissalde and Kunavore, the Fijian streaking down the line to score a try Elissalde converted.
  
Against the run of play, Cardiff Blair scythed through a flat Toulouse defence after a delicate drop-off by replacement centre Jamie Robinson. Blair converted to reduce the score to 26-17 with 12 minutes of the match remaining.
  
But the French giants hit back in scintillating fashion, Albacete charging on and Elissalde feeding the ball down the line to winger Vincent Clerc who crossed in the corner.
  
A tiring Cardiff side began to buckle under the slick-passing home side, replacement forward Jean Bouilhou finishing off a set of forward drives with a try.
  
The finishing touch was provided by Heymans, who hit a cheeky injury-time drop-goal to put Cardiff out of their misery.

Date created : 2008-04-06

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