Toulouse earn title with two fine tries

 

FRENCH champions Toulouse became the first rugby union European club champions after a thrilling 21-18 extra-time victory over Cardiff yesterday.

Outside-half Christophe Deylaud kicked the winning points with a last-gasp penalty to quash an attritional fightback from the home side, whose own outside-half, Adrian Davies, took the match into extra-time when he landed a penalty with the last kick of normal time to make it 15-15.

But after the two had swapped penalties, it was the French international who struck the winning kick after Cardiff had been penalised right in front of their posts with just seconds left.

Toulouse deserved to be the first side to lift the cup after outscoring their hosts two tries to nil - both coming in a blistering opening burst.

The French lived up to their running reputation as they scorched into a 12-point lead with two superb tries that had the reigning Welsh League champions reeling.

Full-back Stephane Ougier set up the opener after just six minutes when he combined with Deylaud to cut back inside and charge for the line.

Ougier was hauled up just inches short, but Toulouse kept control and quickly sent the ball out for centre Thomas Castaignede to plunge over. Deylaud converted from wide out.

Cardiff were still coming to terms with the early setback when the visitors extended their lead four minutes later with an even better effort.

Left-wing David Berty was the instigator this time, cutting inside before finding Castaignede who raced unchallenged along the left touch-line.

Castaignede was eventually stopped by an excellent tackle from Welsh full-back Mike Rayer, but again Toulouse had men in support and scrum-half Jerome Cazalbou grabbed the try.

But Cardiff, at last using their forwards to grind away at the French, finally clawed their way back into the game with two penalties from Davies reducing the half-time deficit to six points.

But the French side always looked the more dangerous and their backs the more penetrative. But Cardiff kept grinding forward.

Indeed, even the inspirational figure of Jonathan Davies - who replaced an injured Mark Ring - was unable to weave his magic, and although namesake Adrian traded penalty goals with Deylaud throughout, Toulouse ran out worthy champions.

Toulouse skipper and French wing Emile N'Tamack praised the Welsh club: "Cardiff were very tough. They would not give us the ball the way we wanted to play our game.

"We have won the French championship for the past two years, but it was very important we won this because we want to play in the European Cup next season.

Cardiff coach Terry Holmes put aside his disappointment to say: "That was a great advert for the competition.

"It's very disappointing, because at the end of the day you want to win," said Holmes.

"It has certainly whetted the appetite for next week, let alone next year. It has been a good experience and the guys in the team have thoroughly enjoyed it".