Rugby Union: Leicester shot down by cool-hand Ougier

Commentary: Leicester 22 Toulouse 23
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The Independent Online
Eighteen months ago, Bob Dwyer had seen enough of French club rugby to last him a lifetime. Depressed and frustrated by the laissez- faire attitude flamboyantly cultivated by his players at the Racing Club de Paris - their kitbags were more likely to contain a packet of Gauloise, a magnum of Moet et Chandon and a volume of Sartre than a jockstrap and a pair of boots - he cut his losses, headed for the Channel and surfaced in the distinctly unpretentious surroundings of Welford Road.

Running and hiding are two very different things, however. A variety of Tricolore types have dogged the bluff Australian's footsteps from the day he packed his bags and set forth for Leicester and Dwyer is finding it impossible to shake them off. The explosive dark horses from Brive wrecked his Heineken Cup ambitions last January and, on Saturday, the better-known quantities of Toulouse did everything in their considerable power to ensure another failure this time round.

Yann Delaigue's cucumber-cool touchline conversion of Stephane Ougier's injury-time try was the final act of a gripping piece of rugby theatre and, while Dwyer did not exactly resemble King Lear on the blasted heath as Jim Fleming's death knell whistle silenced an already subdued Leicester crowd, he looked positively windswept by events. Far from licking their lips at the prospect of a home quarter-final, the Tigers must now survive a sticky, do-or-die play-off tie, simply to earn themselves the dubious reward of an even less palatable last-eight match on the road.

"A big blow, definitely," admitted the Leicester coach. "We're resigned to going the repechage route and, while we'd rather be playing away than not playing at all, progress is going to be a whole lot more difficult than it might have been.

"Toulouse kept their discipline out there, largely because we were never able to make them feel they were losing. We were vulnerable at the end because we were only six points clear and when you're vulnerable, you're there to be shot at. We got shot."

If the threatening Ougier was the man who pulled the trigger, sliding over from close range after following the natural drift of a simple handling move direct from the umpteenth and last aggressively competitive scrummage of an unforgiving struggle, Sylvain Dispagne was the man who loaded the gun.

The international flanker from Perpignan was in murderous form, single- handedly drawing the sting from the Corry-Miller-Back breakaway axis with his ruthless mauling and ubiquitous ball-carrying and support work. "He made a lot of mistakes out there," said Guy Noves, the Toulouse coach, astonishingly. God help the opposition when he hits a hot streak.

Not that Toulouse were without their faults. Their line-out, for instance, was an utter shambles; Hugues Miorin was ineffectual, Franck Belot could not even claim to be that good while Patrick Soula's throwing was more reminiscent of Eric Sykes than Eric Bristow. "He didn't get picked up for it, though," muttered Dwyer. "Perhaps the referee thought no one could conceivably throw that crooked and put it down to a trick of the light."

Yet Leicester failed to punish the Frenchmen for their poor organisation. The tight forwards went well enough, Graham Rowntree and company in the front row making a decent fist, in more ways than one, of a red-raw confrontation with Soula, Franck Tournaire and the magnificent Christian Califano. But the good news ended there. The Tigers' back row were very nearly as anonymous as their back three, Will Greenwood suffered all manner of indignities as his hands repeatedly let him down in midfield and Austin Healey's impersonation of a curate's egg was in the Rory Bremner class.

As usual, the scrum-half's kicking game was well-nigh perfect, as was his defensive work. But no sooner had he pulled off a trademark try-saving tackle on Philippe Lapoutge as Toulouse upped the pace at the start of the second half than he fired a particularly optimistic head-high pass behind Greenwood to allow Romauld Paillat a free ride to the line on 41 minutes.

Even though Leicester would buy themselves some breathing space with Neil Back's churning reply just four minutes later, the visitors were now alive and dangerous and very much at the races.

"We lost the game in the middle of the field," groaned Dwyer. "We had no control of the ball whatsoever, to the extent that we looked more troubled when we had possession than when we were defending.

"I can't believe how much we gave them. They had all their own ball to play with, plus 50 per cent of ours."

At least he could bask in the reflected genius of this season's most extravagant import. Waisale Serevi may not play it the orthodox way at outside-half - when he disappears on one of his flights of fancy, he makes Arwel Thomas look like a pipe and slippers man - but when his gambles pay off, they do so big time.

The Fijian maestro's contribution to a compelling second quarter was nothing short of magical; a chip and catch routine on 24 minutes to send Greenwood galloping joyously to the line, topped off with a flashing dummy and solo finish between the posts shortly before the break.

Those hammer blows were not sufficient to disturb the French equilibrium. Ten months ago, Toulouse suffered a Tiger trauma of similar proportions in the Heineken semi-final and opted for spontaneous combustion. This time, they had ice in their veins. "Discipline, discipline," said a relieved Noves. "It was all we thought about in the week leading into this game. It came before tactics, before everything. This was French rugby at its best."

Indeed. And it may be too good for any British side to cope with in the coming weeks. We have been warned.

Leicester: Tries Greenwood, Serevi, Back; Conversions Serevi 2; Penalty Serevi. Toulouse: Tries: Paillat, Ougier; Conversions Delaigue 2; Penalties Delaigue 2, Ougier.

Leicester: M Horak; T Barlow, S Potter, W Greenwood, M Read; W Serevi, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole (P Gustard, 70), M Corry, E Miller (W Johnson, 58), N Back.

Toulouse: S Ougier; X Garbajosa, R Paillat, P Bondouy, P Lapoutge (D Berty, 68); Y Delaigue, J Cazalbou (capt); C Califano, P Soula, F Tournaire, H Miorin (D Couzinet, 73), F Belot, D Lacroix (C Labit, 61), F Pelous, S Dispagne.

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).

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