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‘More understudies than finishers’ - French media highlight Leinster bench and Toulouse defence

Toulouse have won the last nine finals they have played in thanks to their ‘legendary ability to bend without breaking’

“A sixth star at the end of a suffocating standoff! How Toulouse built its historic success” was the headline in the local La Dèpêche newspaper in Toulouse. Phillippe Lauga wrote: “We predicted a magical final for you. It was exactly that owing to the total commitment and its suspense, even if it was not a spectacular game.

“It was suffocating, then oppressive, then suffocating. But ultimately magical, since it allowed Stade Toulousain to win its sixth star; the second for this generation, which now holds a third of the club’s European honours.

Leinster, that other European giant, has lost its last four finals. It is therefore the Irish province that has still not broken its glass ceiling. Stade, for its part, continues its series of finals won in all competitions (nine now).”

He paid tribute to the Toulouse defence, which, he said, won them the final. “At this moment in the story, we must obviously address the defining fact of this final on the Toulouse side: the defence, which was the key to the match, with nearly 240 tackles including 32 for Jack Willis, who truly has the name of a movie hero. What heroism, what solidarity, what defensive sequences.”


Toulouse replacement Thomas Ramos offered an insight into the dressingroom scene after the victory. “Lots of joy, pride, excitement. We gave ourselves the opportunity to return to the final of this competition and we wanted to win a title. There was a lot of relief also in the locker room after the explosion of joy, a lot of guys sitting there staring into space to realise what we have been doing for some time in this club. It’s beautiful.”

Writing in Midi Olympique under the headline, “Technique: the reasons for the Toulouse miracle”, Nicolas Zanardi paid tribute to the French club’s ability to find a killer score at the right time. “As lucky and miraculous as it may seem, the triumph of Toulouse against Leinster is also down to objective factors. Firstly, their legendary ability to bend without breaking, as proven during almost all of their last finals.

“But above all, this eternal propensity to strike hard at the right time, like on Lebel’s try, where they found themselves for 20 short seconds at 15 against 13, which finally allowed them to hit the outside against the rush defence of Leinster.”

He pointed to the fact that Leinster were unlucky with a couple of decisions but that the Irish province lacked strength in depth off the bench. “[That] should not make us forget the basics either, namely that in the final, the knowledge of winning will always be more essential than the know-how.

“In this matter, [Ugo] Mola’s men delivered a lesson to those of [Jacques] Nienaber, particularly at the crucial moment of extra time, which [again] highlighted the relative weakness of the Irish replacements, more understudies than finishers.”

Zanardi described how Toulouse had won their sixth star after a “Dantesque” game. Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola admitted that he was racked by doubts at times during the match but that his players were the epitome of a “calm, serene focus”.

He added: “It’s the first time, since the first title in 1996, that we have beaten a foreign team in the final, which is also one of the best in recent years. Of course, yes, it brings a special flavour.”

“Dupont unstoppable, Willis inexhaustible” was another headline from Midi Olympique, where Marc Duzan wrote one of the best sentences about an extraordinary final.

“But there was all the best that rugby has to offer: a dogfight, incessant twists and turns, a suspense that sometimes plunged this exhausted stadium into a horrified silence and an intensity that was ultimately worthy of this magnificent, fantastic competition, which is now far superior to Super Rugby and its horrifying farandoles, which, moreover, are choreographed in empty shells.”

L’Équipe led with a tribute to player of the match and the tournament, Antoine Dupont, with a headline - “Pure Joy” - that summed up his feelings after the victory. “The Masters of Europe”, “Dupont irresistible, Willis essential” and “Crazy match, heroic defence, stifling overtime: how Toulouse won its Sixth European Cup”, were just some of the other headlines in the French sports bible.

Laurent Campistron summed up the afternoon’s events. “You don’t win nine finals in a row by chance. It is the result of know-how, an art of winning, the state of mind of a club that never gives up, which has competition in its blood and which reacts like never before as soon as the wind of history promises to carry it higher.”