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It was fitting that they were finally able to crack La Rochelle’s persistent defense in a very characteristic attempt in Toulouse. A wonderful long pass, a back row that carries into space, the inner support, the curved finish.
Cheslin Kolbe celebrates with Antoine Dupont.
Source: Billy Stickland / INPHO
Toulouse is synonymous with the Heineken Champions Cup and it is again fitting that they be the first team to take a fifth title. Leinster’s dream of being the first to earn a fifth European star is over.
Toulouse will recognize as well as anyone that a red card had a big say in this final. Levani Botia was sent off in the 28th minute, leaving Ronan O’Gara’s team with a real tough fight.
They gave him a pretty old rattle and even managed to score late and Toulouse a very nervous ending to secure, but Botia’s highly dangerous high tackle against Maxime Médard left La Rochelle with a mammoth task in front of 10,000 spectators in Twickenham London.
During the break they were able to recover and lead, but Toulouse’s flowing attack thrust, that of center Juan Cruz Mallía ended, and a clean kick against Romain Ntamack of France led them to their first Heineken Cup win since 2010.
It’s a thoroughly disappointing result for O’Gara and his La Rochelle players, but they did an excellent run to reach this decision maker and it seems obvious that they are here now to stand as European competitors. The Irishman will be the main culprit from this summer when Jono Gibbes leaves for Clermont and we have certainly not seen the last one from La Rochelle on this stage.
In London today they suffered the pain of defeat with their first major trophy win taste so scarce. As O’Gara knows, this pain is sometimes necessary before fame arrives.
Luke Pearce shows Levani Botia his red card.
Source: Billy Stickland / INPHO
The red card from Botia was by far the most remarkable moment of a nervous, physical first half in which La Rochelle was up 12-9 despite Toulouse’s numerical advantage during the break.
Ntamack’s 40-meter penalty put the four-time champions ahead in the fifth minute, but Ihaia West reacted quickly with three points for La Rochelle after Toulouse, who then lost to Richie Arnold from the second row to an early injury, received a concession penalty had conceded.
Ntamack was back on target in the 11th minute before « The Fields of Athenry » rang out around Twickenham, just as La Rochelle’s scrum showed its power. The free kick was intoxicating for O’Gara’s side and they decided against two penalties for goal to attack Scrums five yards from goal only to avoid converting those platforms into an attempt.
However, Toulouse struggled to get out of the Half to come out, and West finished the game 6-6 after his team’s Maul pulled a penalty in the Maul.
A minute later they lost Botia to his red card after hitting the head straight from Toulouse – Full-back Médard had shot – who incredibly did not opt for an immediate HIA, but passed it when he was withdrawn a few minutes later.
Referee Luke Pearce initially showed a botia yellow, but the reps clearly showed that Botia’s hit fully justified red and La Rochelle had dropped to 14 men after just 28 minutes.
Ronan O’Gara demands that Toulouse’s Elstadt receive the yellow card.
Source: Dan Sheridan / INPHO
Their immediate reaction was excellent as Will Carelton and Uini Atonio scored big after an attacking arrow from full-back Brice Dulin. Toulouse flanker Rynhardt Elstadt illegally played the ball on the ground after his duel against Atonio. TMO Tom Foley reported the offense with Pearce, who sent Elstadt into the scapegoat for 10 minutes.
West converted the penalty into three points from the tee, but Toulouse pulled over Ntmack’s shoe again after Skelton was punished for that he had tackled half the ball after his chip kick.
Before the break there was still time for a final penalty when Joe Tekori – for the injured Arnold – pinged for the hands in the jerk and West La Rochelle with the last act of the first half.
La Rochelle demanded a high tackle from Toulouse’s Pita Ahki against Grégory Alldritt shortly after the break, but Pearce decided it was legal and instead imposed a penalty on Pierre Bourgarit Failure of mishaps that West should have suffered instead of wiping him far off the post.
Shortly after this missed shot, Toulouse finally broke out in attack. The hooker Paeto Mauvaka picked and crept over a jerk and then connected with Antoine Dupont, who moved sublimely to the right. The ball bounced into the hands of Cheslin Kolbe and the springbok almost ended a breathtaking attempt in the corner, only for Geoffrey Doumayrou’s great tackle to get his foot in contact.
But Doumayrou was offside, chasing a kick at subsequent exit attempt. Ntamack threw himself over the three points with 12:12.
Juan Cruz Mallia scores for Toulouse.
Source: James Crombie / INPHO
However, Toulouse was struggling to get out of their 22 soon afterwards when Elstadt knocked on the ball to invite the La Rochelle strikers to deal with a series of pick-and-carry strokes Looked like they were making their way for the first try of the game, but hooker Pierre Bourgarit knocked as he tried to stretch and score. A penalty concession from La Rochelle in the scrum that followed allowed Toulouse to step up the pressure.
Toulouse next threatened when Médard cleverly kicked Matthis Lebel’s wing to the left to recover the ball, but his offload went off and bounced off.
Mola’s men went very straightforward on their next attack, hitting the La Rochelle defenders on the edge of the rucksack and nearly pushing their way through Rory Arnold, but the TMO review failed to identify a clear basis, so Pearce received an offside penalty instead. Toulouse went to the left corner, but La Rochelle held firm in defense.
However, it was likely that the 14 men were stretched over and over and they eventually broke in the 60th minute when Ntamack made a beautiful one-two In the right back row Selevasio Tolofua swung in right field right in half of La Rochelle and he drew a draw defender before returning to the center of Juan Cruz Mallía, who jumped from a desperate last duel.
Kerr-Barlow scored late for La Rochelle.
Source: Dan Sheridan / INPHO
Ntamack added the extras for a 19-12 Toulouse lead, and then La Rochelle lost 21-year-old Paul Boudehent in the back row just a minute after being introduced from the bench to one Shoulder injury.
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Toulouse gave themselves more wiggle room in the last 10 minutes when Ntamack converted a penalty, punished La Rochelle for locking up on the breakdown and continued his 100% return from the tee.
But La Rochelle wasn’t dead yet. They earned a penalty kick, kicked it left, then pounded on the Toulouse tryline until half of the scrum Tawera Kerr-Barlow dived over the tryline and scored down.
Six minutes forward in the end they badly needed the rebuild, but West had another bad shot from the tee when his shot was linked to the right post and ricocheted.
There were a few more heartbreaking moments for the winners – La Rochelle had a few criminal claims – but Toulouse prevailed for the fifth title.
LA ROCHELLE: Brice Dulin; Dillyn Leyds (HIA – Arthur Retiere 52 to 60, permanent 68), Geoffrey Doumayrou, Levani Botia (red card 28), Raymond Rhule; Ihaia West, Tawera Kerr Barlow; Dany Priso (Reda Wardi 41), Pierre Bourgarit (Facundo Bosch 60), Uini Atonio (Arthur Joly 65); Romain Sazy (Captain), Will Skelton; Grégory Alldritt, Kevin Gourdon (Paul Boudehent (60) (Thomas Lavault (62)), Victor Vito (Wiaan Liebenberg (55)).
TOULOUSE: Maxime Médard (HIA – Thomas Ramos 29 to 38); Cheslin Kolbe, Juan Cruz Mallía, Pita Ahki and Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille (Clément Castets ’70, inversion ’79), Peato Mauvaka (Guillaume Marchand ’70), Charlie Faumuina (David Ainu’u ’65 ); Rory Arnold (Thibaud Flament ’70), Richie Arnold (Joe Tekori ’10); Rynhardt Elstadt (yellow card ’33), Francois Cros, Jerome Kaino (Selevasio Tolofua ’55).
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