Rugby Union: Lamaison sheds self-doubt to save Brive

Toulouse 22 Brive 22 Brive win after extra time on tries scored
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The Independent Online
Immense, spine-tingling, extraordinary. Whatever psychological and physical terrors Bath were forced to confront and overcome at the Recreation Ground on Saturday were mere child's play compared to the assault on mind, body and spirit they can expect when they venture into the Heineken Cup final at the end of next month. Yesterday's second semi-final in Toulouse was a jarring experience, a bleeding chunk of raw meat that made the previous day's contest seem like a finger buffet.

The collision between the city slickers of Toulouse and the honest-to- goodness truffle hunters of Brive split the 26,000 audience straight down the middle and the resulting cacophony was a constant battle between swelling adulation and shrill derision. It will be a different matter when Bath play in Bordeaux on 31 January, for the French Legions will be singing from the same hymn sheets and are likely to turn Le Stade Lescure into something resembling a bearpit.

Brive, the European champions who had lost just once in 15 Heineken Cup matches, made the 150-mile trip from the farmlands of the Correze to the stylish capital of the Haut-Garonne with the mantle of underdogs hanging heavy on their shoulders. Deprived by injury of their influential prop, Richard Crespy, they travelled with a patently unfit David Venditti in the centre and a profoundly out-of-sorts Alain Pennaud at full-back. "For Brive to come to Toulouse in such a state is like entering a donkey in the [Prix de l']Arc de Triomphe," said one respected French pundit.

Some donkeys. Brive rode into Toulouse on a white charger rather than a mule yesterday and thoroughly deserved the sweet, sweet victory they achieved after 110 minutes of unrelenting rugby theatre. Outscrummaged by a superior Toulouse front row and almost completely unhinged by the early departure of Olivier Magne, their world-class flanker, they drew on inspirational displays from their senior players - Philippe Carbonneau, Lisandro Arbizu and Eric Alegret - to win with their hearts and souls what they could not have hoped to win through physical force alone.

Five points adrift at 11-16 as the game ticked over into injury time, the visitors looked out on their feet. Yet Venditti dredged up enough strength to lead one final raid into the Toulouse 22 and when Jerome Carrat was stopped eight metres short by a thunderclap of a tackle from Christophe Deylaud, Carbonneau threw out a long pass that bordered on the visionary to allow the second and quicker of the Carrat brothers, Sebastian, a clear run to the left of the posts for the equalising try. It was left to Christophe Lamaison, a gilt-edged, gold-plated, stone-cold banker of a goal-kicker, to win the game outright with the easiest of conversions. Astonishingly, he fluffed it.

That miss condemned Brive to 30 minutes of extra time that their dwindling reserves of energy seemed unlikely to survive. Yet they did survive, even though they twice fell behind to penalties by Yann Delaigue. When Lamaison was called on once again in the final minutes, he shed what must have been unbearable self-doubt and slotted the 28-metre, head-on penalty to level it once more. It was enough to earn Brive, who outscored Toulouse by two tries to one, a second successive final appearance.

Had Magne lasted longer than a mere 21 minutes, Brive might well have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble. The French international open- side was in magisterial form, pressuring Deylaud into early mistakes and linking menacingly with his highly effective partners, Loic van der Linden and Francois Duboisset. It was no particular surprise when he claimed the opening try, steaming around the front of a line-out in a well-rehearsed set-piece move and making the line in Emile Ntamack's tackle.

Sadly, Magne damaged his right knee in the process and well though Lionel Mallier performed in his stead, the cutting edge quickly evaporated from Brive's back row. Armed with the outstanding Christian Califano and Frank Tournaire at prop, the Toulouse scrummage muscled its way into the ascendant and looked likely to prove the decisive factor, especially after Pierre Bondouy had narrowed the gap with a sharp, dummying try on 33 minutes.

A left-footed penalty from Delaigue and two from the nonchalant Deylaud more than cancelled out a single three-pointer from Lamaison and although the travelling Brive support refused to be silenced for a second, the massed ranks of drummers in Toulouse colours began to beat out an ominous rhythm. The drums would fall silent, though. The country boys from Brive may not be blessed with the sophistication of their swish and swaggering rivals but when it comes to the Heineken Cup, their pride carries all before it.

Toulouse: Try Bondouy; Conversion Delaigue; Penalties Deylaud 3, Delaigue 2. Brive: Tries Magne, S Carrat; Penalties Lamaison 4.

Toulouse: S Ougier; E Ntamack, P Bondouy, Y Delaigue, P Lapoutge (X Garbajosa, 107); C Deylaud (N Martin, 99), J Cazalbou (capt); C Califano, P Soula, F Tournaire (J-L Jordana, 89), H Miorin, F Pelous (F Belot, 57), D Lacroix (N Spanguero 107), S Dispagne, C Labit.

Brive: A Penaud; J Carrat, C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat (P Bomati, 95); L Arbizu, P Carbonneau (capt); D Casadei, L Travers (J C Vicard, 77), D Laperne, E Alegret, Y Manhes, L van der Linden (O Gouaillard, 107), F Duboisset (R Sonnes, h-t), O Magne (L Mallier, 21).

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).