RUGBY. A real thriller, this half sees Toulouse reach the final at the expense of La Rochelle

RUGBY. A real thriller, this half sees Toulouse reach the final at the expense of La Rochelle
RUGBY. A real thriller, this half sees Toulouse reach the final at the expense of La Rochelle

The first semi-final of the Top 14 pitted Toulouse against Stade Rochelais this Friday evening in Bordeaux. A remake of last year’s clash which saw the red and black win in the final moments. “We will do it“, shouted Ronan O’Gara in the locker room before his men entered the Bordeaux meadow. All the players were concentrated and determined to reach the final. There was also tension, Kerr-Barlow directly taking out a ball in touch from the first moments It was enough for Toulouse to open the scoring with Ramos against the poles (2nd, 3-0). The Maritimes had to play a perfect match. But it started badly. Opposite, the red and black wanted to win the game by playing several touches quickly. But also to invest in the La Rochelle camp. After Dupont, it was Ramos who dared the 50/22 and succeeded. An initiative which could have ended in the goal without a forward from Mauvaka.

La Rochelle does not give up

Ten minutes is what it took for Maritime to get into this game. By finding a nice touch, they pushed Toulouse into a mistake and put themselves in a position to score. And it was Latu who improved this opportunity with an excellent ball carried (12th, 3-7). An achievement which somewhat upset the reigning champions. And it was once again Ramos who set the defense on fire before being caught by Nowell a few meters from the goal. Toulouse lacking efficiency unlike the Maritimes who used the carried ball to put their opponents at fault (3-10, 20th).

But they were unable to validate his points. A forward move allowed the Haut-Garonnais to invest the 22 meters. While Nowell’s fault, punished with a yellow for a cynical mistake in front of his linegave Toulouse the possibility of scoring through Kinghorn on the wing left free by the Englishman after a pass from Dupont (23rd, 10-10).

At the edge of the half hour of play, this half kept all its promises, with commitment, but also indecision. Once again, these are inaccuracies from the Maritimes (missed release of Kerr-Barlow and Latu’s foul) which gave Stade Toulousain the opportunity to regain control of the game. Dupont adjusting a laser pass for Mallia in the corridor (31st, 15-10). Nevertheless, the Toulouse residents made mistakes and gave La Rochelle three new points before Willis received a toast for a series of mistakes. An opportunity that Ronan O’Gara’s men immediately transformed with a strong try from Alldritt (40th, 15-20). The Rochelais, in numerical superiority, took the lead at the break under the impetus of conquering forwards. And this, despite possession and occupation in favor of the people of Toulouse.

Two reds in the half!

Which had to be more effective in the second act to hope to win. From the start, the meeting took a turn with the red card addressed to Atonio, his first in the colors of La Rochelle, for a dangerous head tackle on Flament. At that time, the two teams were still at 14 but Toulouse missed a first good opportunity. Ntamack’s pass not finding Kinghorn’s hands. The second was the right one.

At least that’s what the Red and Black supporters thought. But once again, a forward saved the Maritimes. It was finally Mallia who scored a double from the sidelines on an inspiration from Dupont. The Argentinian once again beating Dulin. In the 49th minute, however, victory had not chosen its side, the reigning champions only two steps ahead, 22 to 20.

The La Rochelle back was definitely having a tough time. A few moments later, he saw his clearance blocked by Chocobares. Which slipped behind the poles to give Toulouse nine lengths of lead (29-20). Competitors, the winners of the 2022 and 2023 Champions Cup refused to give up. A play at the foot of Hastoy forced Ramos to clear the ball out of bounds. Which provided an excellent scrum in front of the goal. The effort of the La Rochelle forwards was not rewarded. After a foot pass from the opener that was too long, the yellow and black pack was pushed back and penalized. A melee which resulted in Wardi’s red card for a header after being pushed by Marchand. Which was also excluded for ten minutes.

End of match under tension

Despite these two reds, Stade Rochelais held on with a new penalty which brought them to six points behind Toulouse (29-23). With a quarter of an hour to play, everything was still possible on one side or the other. The reigning champions were narrowly lacking. Their faults (15th penalty in the 65th) let the Rochelais believe it. Toulouse had not managed to make the break and distance themselves from their evening opponents. Less than ten minutes from the siren, Ramos, however, gave his team a breath of fresh air with a penalty (32-23). If the full-back missed another kick, the gap was enough to allow Toulouse to reach the final of the Top 14. Especially since Lebel, who had just come on, rushed to the Promised Land on a pass to foot of Ntamack. An achievement which sealed the victory in favor of the red and black. Final score, 39 to 23.

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