Rugby Union : French learn how to travel

Peter Corrigan sees Cardiff sway to the hoots and hollers of a French carnival
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The Independent Online
Brile became the second French club in succession to lift the Heineken European Cup in triumph at the Welsh National Stadium - once more and the French win the place outright. The stadium will be rubble next year, but they are so much at home in the place perhaps the French lottery will make a donation to the redevelopment.

What Leicester are going to do to redevelop the confidence they brought into this final is a hard question. There hardly seemed a dissenting voice for the opinion they would embrace this trophy in consolation for the two they just missed last season. How they will shape up for domestic honours in the rest of this season depends on how quickly they can de- Brive themselves of this experience. The brilliance with which Brive destroyed Leicester eclipsed the victory of Toulouse, who won the inaugural tournament last year in extra time against Cardiff. It was the rudest of rebuttals of our illusion that French club teams don't travel.

The Cup has made an enormous contribution to rescuing the season from the battlegrounds of the committee rooms. Drawn into the interminable squabble about who runs English rugby, and abandoned by ITV, the tournament looked doomed. But the sponsors Heineken stuck to it like a beer mat to the bottom of a pint and they reached the parts of the game that others wouldn't touch with a barge pole. Once it got under way, BBC Wales signed it up for its viewers and by yesterday the competition had 35 million viewers world-wide enthralled. It also had a large congregation in the stadium. A healthy number of Welsh supporters swelled the ranks of 20,000 Leicester fans and 5,000 from Brive.

It must have been strange for the Welsh to feel like interlopers in their own home. The dear old stadium is not unaccustomed to noise but, during internationals, the sound raised by the usual inhabitants assaults the ear drums in a seriously rhythmic way. Even when the French international team fans come here they confine their patriotic successes to letting loose one or two cockerels on to the pitch. The Brive contingent did more than that. They brought a 20-piece band and enough hooters to stop work in every factory in Cardiff. The carnival sound seemed to smother the noise from the rest of the stadium. It was so impressive the stadium announcer asked: "We're playing Ireland next Saturday, could you come and cheer for Wales?"

If the Welshmen did want something patriotic to sing about, the performance of Welsh referee Derek Bevan was worthy of it. If they had any polite songs about referees, they would have sung one just to offer the Brive fans some opposition.

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