Four-time champions Toulouse brought Harlequins’ 14-match winning run to an end on Friday with a muscular and stylish 21-10 European Cup victory which nudged the French giants closer to the quarter-finals.
Fijian winger Timoci Matanavou scored both of Toulouse’s tries at the Twickenham Stoop, in the first of a Pool Six double-header which exposed a huge gulf in ability between two teams who currently lead their respective domestic championships.
The result gave Toulouse a four-point lead and a win in the return fixture next weekend would ensure a last-eight spot.
“We have to go there and give it a shot. We have nothing to lose,” Harlequins skipper Chris Robshaw said.
“We have to win. Anything else and we will be out of the European Cup,” he added.
Toulouse dominated possession and territory in the opening 40 minutes, with former All Black fly-half Luke McAlister giving the French side an early advantage with a fifth-minute penalty.
Fellow Kiwi fly-half Nick Evans leveled at 3-3 with a ninth-minute penalty after Toulouse’s Samoan prop Census Johnston was caught offside.
Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care then rashly decided on a tap penalty, much to the irritation of Evans and the delight of Toulouse when the English side were punished for offside.
Toulouse then grabbed the only try of the first half in the 18th minute.
McAlister launched a long pass to impressive No. 8 Louis Picamoles, who darted ahead before feeding flanker Thierry Dusastoir and the French international captain quickly released Matanavou for the score.
McAlister missed the conversion, but made amends with a monster penalty to make the half-time score 11-3.
Harlequins briefly looked a different side at the start of the second half and quickly reduced the deficit to 11-10.
Care nipped off the back of a scrum and released young prop Joe Marler, whose pass fell perfectly for full-back Mike Brown to collect his sixth European Cup try.
Toulouse complained to the referee that Marler had impeded Florian Fritz when the veteran center attempted to intercept Brown, but the try was ruled good and Evans added the conversion.
McAlister quickly relieved the pressure with a successful penalty for 14-10.
Toulouse virtually wrapped up victory 15 minutes from time when Matanavou scored his second try of the night, after a blistering cross-field move involving McAlister and Vincent Clerc.
McAlister succeeded with a tricky conversion from the touchline for a 21-10 lead.
In Pool Two, Cardiff knocked Edinburgh off top spot with a crushing 25-8 win, with Scottish fly-half Dan Parks kicking 20 points to add to winger Alex Cuthbert’s 75th-minute try.
“Dan had a good game. We are quick to realize he might kick a lot, but he keeps us going forward and the big thing for us is he keeps the scoreboard ticking, and any time they got penalized in their own half he slotted his kicks,” Cardiff forwards coach Justin Burnell said.
In Pool Four, Ulster picked-up a five-try bonus point win in a 31-3 victory over Aironi, which temporarily put them top of the log until Clermont and Leicester were scheduled to meet yesterday.
Stephen Ferris, Adam D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson all scored tries in the match.