Streetwise Brive give Leicester a mauling
IF THERE were lingering doubts about the raison d'etre of the European Cup they were brusquely dispelled by a compelling final at Cardiff that emphasised the quality of French dub rugby for the second successive year.
Brive took on the mantle of Toulouse, the 1996 winners, with astonishing brio and dynamism, scoring four tries without reply.
Poor old Leicester - they came, they saw, and they foundered. Rarely has a leading English side succumbed so tamely to the French. At times it was embarrassing to see the celebrated Tigers' pack out manoeuvred in the line out, out gunned in the loose and severely pressured in the scrums.
Long before the kick off, it was evident that Brive were there for the kill. The exuberant supporters, faces daubed in black and white paint, blew klaxons and trumpets and sang the Marseillaise. It was an intimidating spectacle for Dean Richards' men to confront. Sebastien Viars, the fullback who began the rout with a fifth minute try, summed up the Brive strategy: "We were very determined not to be knocked over, not to retreat. We drew strength from our collective will to succeed. That was why destiny was with Brive today".
Failure in the line out hastened - Leicester's downfall, their coach Bob Dwyer acknowledged: "We found it very hard to attack without the ball. Unlike many French sides who focus on the difficult parts of the game, Brive make sure they do the simple things very well".
The linchpin of Brive's ambitious game plan was their open side flanker Gregori Kacala, a 30 year old Polish stevedore from Dansk, whose bullish charges through the midfield gave his team a rolling momentum they never lost.
Grant Ross, a 6ft 8in New Zealander, gave the Leicester locks a nightmare afternoon in the lineout, while, behind the scrum, Penaud, Venditti, Carrat and Viars cut the English defence to pieces. Penaud, though, may miss the rest of the Five Nations' championship with an ankle injury.
Like most great French sides, Brive were tough and streetwise at close quarters, often holding down, blocking or barging Johnson, Poole and Richards as they struggled vainly to win line out ball. It was surprising to say the least, that Richards, the captain, did not wake up to Brive's illegalities early on and instruct his troops to take appropriate counter measures.
"It has always been my coaching technique to insist we play within the laws of the game," said Dwyer, when he was asked why the Leicester forwards responded so primly.
Once Leicester's sources of possession had dried up, the playmakers, Back, Healey, Liley and Greenwood were reduced to the grinding task of putting in as many tackles as possible, something they had not bargained for.
In the event, the French centres, Lamaison and Venditti, poured through like crack cavalry. Even so, Lamaison's wretched goal kicking - he left 27 points on the floor - offered the Tigers a tantalising lifeline.
At half time, Brive only led 8-6 and in the 54th minute, Leicester undeservedly nudged ahead 9-8, thanks to John Liley's third penalty goal.
Were the French about to self destruct? The answer, given within a minute, was a breathtaking 40 metre run by the right wing Fabre who held off three defenders on his way to a try in the corner.
In the final quarter, Carbonneau sent the left wing Carrat over for a short range try, Lamaison dropped a surprising 38 metre goal and Carrat rubbed home Brive's supremacy with a last minute try - his 10th in the competition.
As Richards remarked: "It was a kick in the teeth for us. For all the boys there is a huge sense of disappointment. To go away from here beaten so emphatically is bound to jolt people's confidence".