Drama confirms credibility

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The Independent Online

reports from Cardiff Arms Park Cardiff 18 Toulouse 21 (after extra time)

Since no one any longer appears to have any doubts about rugby union's crying need for its own European community, perhaps it is superfluous to exult that yesterday's inaugural European Cup final conclusively established the competition's credibility.

For drama it could hardly have been surpassed. A tumultuous match - a genuine rugby occasion sufficient to make the English clubs curse again at their enforced absence - was taken into extra time when Adrian Davies kicked an equalising penalty with the last kick of normal time.

It had been a heroic effort by Cardiff to pull back the 12-point deficit they conceded during Toulouse's blistering opening. But the coup de grace was left to Christophe Deylaud, the stand-off widely derided for his performances for France over the past year, who kicked the winning penalty after a debilitating 110 minutes and 22 seconds.

Cardiff had enough time to restart and after one last bout of panic in the French defences, that was it. Though Toulouse blew hot and cold, the Heineken Cup could not have a worthier first resting place and the involvement of Bath, Leicester and others with Cardiff, Toulouse and the rest next season is already a prospect of unimaginable delight.

Which was more or less how the 20,000-plus in attendance would have viewed yesterday's rain-free proceedings - "a great advert for the competition", as Terry Holmes, the Cardiff coach, put it.

That the utopianism lasted only as long as the nine minutes it took Toulouse to score their two tries was the game's principal disappointment but that was also how long it took Cardiff to come to terms with the absolute need to close down their opponents. Stephane Ougier's long-range strike was not halted until he was almost at the line, and even then a quick redirection to the blind side put Thomas Castaignede over for Deylaud to convert.

The second try was a subtler blend of speed and guile. The passing between David Berty, Castaignede and Jerome Cazalbou which freed the latter was good enough to open a gap even in what had appeared to be a blanket Cardiff defence.

The Cardiff forwards worked hard to deprive Toulouse of the steady possession which had been theirs at the outset and Davies pulled back two penalties before half-time and another in the second half before Castaignede's drop goal re-established Toulouse's six-point advantage.

The problem was that French discipline was deteriorating to the point where every penalty David McHugh awarded in the second half went to Cardiff and, instead of attacking as promised, Deylaud bizarrely chose to kick everything that came his way. Davies made up for two earlier failures by succeeding with two more, the equaliser coming a nerve-jangling three minutes into stoppage time.

But no sooner had extra time started than Deylaud's first penalty gave Toulouse the lead and though Davies again tied the scores with 10 of the additional minutes remaining the final glory was Deylaud's and Toulouse's. Had he missed, the trophy would have been shared.

"It's certainly a couple of levels above your run-of-the-mill League games," Adrian Davies said. "It's not so much the intensity or tackling; it's the skill element and the speed element."

Cardiff: Penalties A Davies 6. Toulouse: Tries Castaignede, Cazalbou; Conversion Deylaud; Penalties Deylaud 2; Drop goal Castaignede.

Cardiff: M Rayer; S Ford (N Walker, 97), M Hall, M Ring (J Davies, h- t), S Hill; A Davies, A Moore; A Lewis, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, J Wakeford, D Jones, E Lewis, H Taylor (capt), O Williams.

Toulouse: S Ougier; E Ntamack (capt), P Carbonneau (E Artiguste, 93), T Castaignede, D Berty (U Mola, 69); C Deylaud, J Cazalbou; C Califano, P Soula (C Guiter, 20-25), C Portolan, H Miorin, F Belot, D Lacroix (R Castel, 58), S Dispagne, H Manent.

Referee: D McHugh (Douglas, Co Cork).