Rugby Union: Callard brings house down

European Cup final: Roof falls in on Lamaison as last-gasp triumph lights up Bath's troubled season; Brive 18 Bath 19 Pens: Lamaison 5 Try: Callard Drop: Penaud Pens: Callard 4 Con: Callard ; Half-time: 15-6 Attendance: 36,500
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The Independent Online
WHAT price the boycott now? Bath, the most trophy-laden club side in English rugby history, are European champions at last and it will take more than a pin-striped cabal of millionaire owners with egos to match their bank balances to stop them defending their cherished title next season. If yesterday's Heineken Cup final in Bordeaux was a generally drab and error-ridden affair, the denouement was so neurotically compelling that it will live in the memory alongside last summer's Lions triumph in South Africa.

Indeed, this was a case of Lions revisited. Bath, behind the eight-ball from the kick-off, soaked up an ocean of pressure for the opening 50 minutes or so and had to watch Christophe Lamaison open up ominous leads with a series of perfectly struck penalties. Indeed, it did not appear to dawn on the West Country men that they might be capable of winning until Jon Callard, their recalled full-back, crossed for the only try as the final quarter started to unfold.

It was the simplest of strikes, even for a 31-year-old veteran with decreasing amounts of gas on which to call. Dan Lyle, the American Eagles' captain, drove hard from the base of a close-range scrum to the right of the Brive posts, Andy Nicol shipped on a quick ball to Jeremy Guscott and Callard appeared on the maestro's shoulder to complete the score entirely unmolested by a French defence that had gone absent without leave.

His conversion brought Bath back to 13-15 - Callard had already landed two first-half penalties - but even though he slotted another three-pointer with 15 minutes left on the clock, Bath would not take the lead until injury time. Alain Penaud miscued a clearance to touch, Adedayo Adebayo gathered, kicked back into the Brive 22 and was then obstructed by Yvan Manhes, the second row who had until that point been the pick of the French forwards. Callard kept his nerve to do the business with the penalty from 20 metres.

All over? Not on your life. Lamaison, unusually fallible as the time ticked away, was wide with a left-sided penalty on 84 minutes and when Nicol conceded a five-metre scrum with the mother of all fumbles, Lisandro Arbizu's do-or-die drop goal floated inches wide.

Much of the rugby in the first half was so dire that the massed ranks of Brive supporters concentrated on providing their own entertainment. The traditional brass bands of the Correze ran through a vast repertoire of jolly sing-along standards, few of which appeared to be inspired by anything on the pitch. Even when Lamaison was teeing up a penalty, the black and white hordes continued with their folk songs and Mexican waves.

What rugby there was came from the Frenchmen. David Venditti intercepted a particularly amateurish pass from Mike Catt after five minutes to free Olivier Magne on a 40-metre gallop to the Bath line, only to discover that the referee, Jim Fleming, had already pulled up the Brive forwards at the other end of the pitch. Then, after 24 minutes, Catt skewed a drop-goal attempt so spectacularly that the ball was fielded by the ultra- slippery Sebastien Carrat on the left wing. Carrat skinned Ieuan Evans and looked certain to cruise to five points, but he had his right leg taken from beneath him by the Welshman's fingertip tap-tackle.

Bath were rendered impotent as it seemed that Catt's range of options at outside-half numbered precisely two - if he did not hoist the ball on the Brive back three, he lobbed floated cut-out passes without first performing the basic task of drawing the opposition midfield - and although the West Country defence was characteristically hard-nosed, most of the strategy involved conceding penalties in any area that happened to be outside Lamaison's range.

Unfortunately for them, his range seemed to cover the entire pitch; he landed one pearl from inside his own half and looked perfectly capable of defending Brive's title on his own. But Bath started the second half more urgently and after repelling seven Brive scrums on their own line, they allowed a modicum of self-belief to seep into their hesitant veins.

There is trouble ahead for Bath, of course, not least on Tuesday when Kevin Yates, their England prop, faces a Twickenham disciplinary tribunal to answer allegations of ear-biting. The West Country men may well be in decline anyway, for some of their domestic performances this season have been desperate. In the wine bars and cafes of Bordeaux, however, it was difficult last night to find an Englishman capable of giving a damn about anything. The dream had been realised and no one was much interested in waking up to the harsh realities lying in wait.

Bath: J Callard; I Evans, J Guscott, P de Glanville, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol (capt); D Hilton, M Regan (F Mendez, 77), V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, R Webster, D Lyle, N Thomas (R Earnshaw, 70).

Brive: A Penaud; J Carrat, C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat (S Viars, 76); L Arbizu, P Carbonneau; D Casadei, L Travers, R Crespy (D Laperne, 50), E Alegret, Y Manhes, L van der Linden, F Duboisset (R Sonnes, 70), O Magne.

Referee: J Fleming (Sco).