Try count is decisive as Brive squeeze into final

 

Brive arrived in Toulouse both as Europeans champions and underdogs but, after a nail-biting semi-final of 110 minutes, earned the right to defend their title by outscoring Toulouse 2-1 on tries.

The teams were level 16-16 at the end of normal time and 22-22 after extra time. Ultimately Brive's superior fitness and discipline prevailed over Toulouse's better teamwork, and earned them a tilt against Bath in Bordeaux on January 31st.

It was nip and tuck all the way but Brive would have kicked themselves - or their kicker Christophe Lamaison - if they had not come through.

The drama peaked at 80 minutes when Christophe Deylaud put Toulouse 16-11 ahead with a penalty. But in injury-time Brive struck back with a scorching break from Jerome Carrat. From broken play he flashed through the defence, only to be brought down metres short of the line.

From the maul Brive had a gigantic overlap and Carrat went over 10 metres to the left of the posts. Unaccountably Lamaison missed the kick.

Brive, if anything, looked the fresher in extra time. Lamaison missed a penalty, Lisandro Arbizu an easy drop goal, and when Lamaison finally kicked a penalty, Yann Delaigue cancelled it at once with one of his own.

Then it was Toulouse who went ahead, through a Deylaud penalty. There were five minutes to go - and that was enough for a brilliant break by Arbizu against the run of play, another penalty from 25 metres in front of the posts and no mistake this time from Lamaison.

He had opened the scoring too, with a penalty that was quickly followed by Brive's other try - a costly one as the scorer Olivier Magne, bursting round the front of a line-out, was carried off after a crunching tackle as he crashed over the line.

Toulouse, the French champions, did not open their account for half an hour, when Pierre Bondouy scored a converted try from a five-metre scrum and skippass. It was 8-7 at half-time and thereafter level pegging to the end.

Toulouse: Ougier; Ntamack, Delaigue, Bondouy, Lapoutge; Deylaud, Cazalbou; Califano, Soula, Tournaire, Miorin, Pelous, Lacroix, Labit, Dispagne. Replacements: Bellot for Pelous (57 mins), Jordana for Tournaire (89 mins), Martin for Deylaud (99 mins), Garbajosa for Lapoutge (107 mins), Spanghero for Lacroix (108 mins).

Brive: Penaud; J Carrat, Lamaison, Venditti, S Carrat; Arbizu, Carbonneau; Casadei, Travers, Laperne, Allegret, Manhes, Van der Linden, Magne, Duboisset. Replacements: Mallier for Magne (20 mins), Vicard for Travers (76 mins), Arbo for S Carrat (95 mins), Gouaillard for Van der Linden (107 mins).

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).