Rugby Union: Cardiff cut down by the spirit of Brive

Brive 26 Cardiff 13
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The Independent Online
The rugby fanatics of Brive talk ceaselessly of l'esprit de clocher - the spirit they draw from the church bells that chime across the town morning, noon and night - and yesterday those bells tolled for Cardiff. The Welshmen fought tooth and nail to keep their Heineken European Cup ambitions alive in a torrid, almost blood-curdling confrontation amid a cacophony of firecrackers and brass band fanfares but a wonderful try from David Venditti five minutes into the second half opened the floodgates and left Hemi Taylor's side dead in the water.

Brive will now face a rampant Leicester in the final at Cardiff Arms Park on 25 January and, on the evidence of a compelling afternoon in south- west France, they deserve their shot at glory. Their performance in the third quarter was nothing short of devastating, orchestrated by the regal Alain Penaud at outside-half and hewn from an absolute rock of an open- side flanker by the name of Gregori Kacala.

The 17st Pole from Gdansk gave Cardiff all the trouble they could handle and then some; had Lech Walesa been forced to climb over Kacala rather than a shipyard wall to start the Polish uprising, he would probably have forgotten all about democracy and stuck to mending fuses.

It was all too much for Jonathan Humphreys, the Welsh national captain, who was dismissed after 54 minutes by the Irish referee, Brian Stirling, for rugby's equivalent of two bookable offences. The hooker had already been warned for his part in a fist fight with Eric Allegret, and an ill- advised flail of the arms at a driving wall earned him a yellow card. Stirling decided enough was enough when Humphreys tackled Philippe Carbonneau from an almost ludicrously offside position close to the Cardiff line. He is now likely to miss his country's first two games in the Five Nations' Championship.

Within a minute of his departure, Cardiff were on the slab. Paul Young came into the front row at the expense of Derwyn Jones and the Brive tight forwards, sensing a kill and breathing fire, drove the scrum to send Francois Duboisset crashing over for the most convincing of pushover tries.

Yet the real damage had been inflicted some minutes earlier. Cardiff, just six points adrift, were still in contention as the second half began but their hard working pack was swept aside as the hosts virtually doubled the pace of their game. Rob Howley and Nigel Walker performed heroics to prevent scores by Pennaud and Didier Casadei, but they had no answer to Venditti as the centre hit Carbonneau's pass at the perfect angle and, with a hint of a dummy and a show of the ball, screeched past Justin Thomas for the opening try.

Jonathan Davies kicked a second penalty to cut the lead to 10 points but the writing was on the wall in capital letters. Sebastien Carrat knocked on in the process of grounding the ball for another try but that frustration was eased when Christophe Lamaison converted Duboisset's jubilant score and then banged over a fourth penalty to end Brive's flurry.

The Frenchmen then decided to sit on their lead, withdrawing players at regular intervals to give their replacements a taste of the vibrant atmosphere. As a result, Cardiff escaped lightly in the final 20 minutes and even claimed a penalty try for persistent infringements at the ruck. But Brive showed enough pace and skill to send a warning signal to Leicester.

Brive: Tries Venditti, Duboisset; Conversions Lamaison 2; Penalties Lamaison 4. Cardiff: Penalty try; Conversion J Davies; Penalties J Davies 2.

Brive: S Viars; G Fabre, C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat (C Heymans, 64); A Penaud (capt), P Carbonneau (S Bonnet, 75); D Casadei (E Bouti, 61), L Travers, R Crespy, E Allegret (A Rees, 58), G Ross, L van der Linden (Y Domi, 77), F Duboisset, G Kacala.

Cardiff: J Thomas; S Hill, M Hall, L Davies, N Walker; J Davies, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, J Wakeford, D Jones (P Young, 54), H Taylor (capt), E Lewis, G Jones.

Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).

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