Toulouse leave it late for thrilling Stade draw
Toulouse's players celebrate after prop Yohan Montes scored a try during a French Top 14 rugby union match against Stade Francais on March 22, 2014, at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris - by Thomas Samson
Stade Francais looked to have the upper hand, having led 27-8 at half-time, but Toulouse came storming back in the second period, eventually outscoring their hosts at the Stade de France -- in front of a 63,000-strong crowd -- by four tries to three.
"Never would I have thought we were capable of getting back into this match," Toulouse coach Guy Noves acknowledged.
"I found the way the second half played out completely satisfying.
"But we can't afford to be as lax as we were in the first period. We've never conceded so many points in so little time. How do I explain it? I can't explain it!"
Noves' Stade Francais counterpart Gonzalo Quesada was left equally stumped by the result.
"I'm trying to understand," the Argentinian sighed. "We never said 'our work's done', we knew Toulouse would come back out with intent.
"We suffered but with a 19-point advantage, we should have shown better game management."
Stade's Julien Dupuy opened the scoring with a long-range penalty after Luke McAlister had missed an earlier effort for Toulouse.
The feisty scrum-half then sliced between McAlister and Patricio Albacete for a gift of a try he also converted.
But Toulouse came firing straight back, centre Gael Fickou pouncing on a loose kick-off and driving forward, McAlister taking Pascal Pape with him as he crossed the line from the resulting ruck.
It ended badly for the former All Black playmaker, just back after four months out, who injured his back in the process and staggered off after 13 minutes.
"He'll definitely have a week off," Noves said, adding that McAlister thought he had recovered from a sore back, which he likened to a lumbago.
With Dupuy at the heart of Stade's driving game, the former Leicester player again split the defence and a smart offload saw half-back partner Jules Plisson over for the Paris team's second try.
Dupuy was again on the mark with a penalty to push Stade's lead to 20-5, soon extended by seven points when lock Alexandre Flanquart crossed after a break by ex-Springbok centre Meyer Bosman and a good offload by Pape.
Replacement Doussain pulled back a penalty for Toulouse, who started the second-half with a neatly-taken try by South African scrum-half Jano Vermaak after a storming break from Fiji flanker Akapusi Qera.
Toulouse replacement Joe Tekori made an instant difference after then taking the pitch, the towering Samoan setting up the drive and penalty from which he crashed over for a converted try that dragged his team back to within seven points.
In a nail-biting climax, Stade's Benjamin Macome was sin-binned for a ruck infringement with 15 minutes left, and for all that Toulouse pushed, they could not break through a resolute defence.
Fijian wing Waisea Vuidravuwalu produced a last-gasp, try-saving tackle on Toulouse's New Zealander Hosea Gear, but it was not finished as the pressure finally paid off and Montes bullocked over, Doussain making no mistake with the extras.
Clermont took pole position in the Top 14 on Friday with a 22-16 victory over second-placed Toulon, a win that also extended their remarkable four-year undefeated home record to 74 matches.
Montpellier travel to Oyonnax later Saturday with the chance to leapfrog Stade Francais into third spot, while regining champions Castres, currently occupying the last of the six play-off berths, are at home to Brive.
Biarritz could be consigned to the drop if, as expected, they lose at Perpignan, while Bordeaux travel to Bayonne in a mid-table matchup.
Sunday's game sees Paris side Racing-Metro travel to Grenoble, hoping that a win could hoist them into the top six.