It was, unexpectedly, Brive rather than Leicester who travelled the better. And with their support a fraction of the size of Leicester's but making 10 times the noise, the Frenchmen had their opponents on the rack from start to finish. The sight of Matt Poole and the hitherto untouchable Martin Johnson being cleaned out in the line-out and, worse still, the inglorious retreat of the front five as they were mauled and rolled downfield, had Leicester's supporters blinking in disbelief.
Yet even that paled into insignificance besides the scintillating running of Brive's full-back Sebastien Viars and the two centres, Christophe Lamaison and David Venditti. Time and again they sliced through Leicester's defence with their bewildering running and blistering pace. If Lamaison had kicked with anything like the efficiency of his running then the match would have been over before half-time. He missed three penalties and two conversions, but was nevertheless a massive influence.
The opening six minutes were as explosive as any seen on the ground.In that time Will Greenwood was penalised for a foolish late tackle on Viars, Lamaison kicked a penalty from 50 yards and Brive scored a try fit to conquer the world, let alone Europe. Viars thundered through a gap made for him by Gregory Kacala's charge just inside the Leicester half. The full-back tore up the left touchline and with Lamaison backing up inside and the Leicester cover closing in fast, had a fraction of a second to get his pass away. Instead he kept going and somehow, against all the odds, made it to the line.
The speed of Brive's attacks was stunning enough from the safety of the stand. What it must have been like down on the field one can only imagine. But Leicester were powerless to prevent it. They could only watch in admiration as Brive set up a series of dazzling moves, most of them involving Viars.
Leicester were crumbling before our eyes. John Liley could not even raise the siege by finding touch from a penalty inside his 22. The pressure came back on and it was only the failure of Lamaison's boot and the fallibility of Gerald Fabre's hands which kept Leicester clinging on as their defence was opened up by Brive's light cavalry.
Remarkably Leicester held on until the final quarter. They did so through the accuracy of John Liley, whose third penalty briefly gave them a 9- 8 lead 10 minutes into the second half. But victory in such circumstances and against opponents of this class would have been a travesty. To be fair to the Tigers, any side in the world would have been hard-pressed to hold Brive.
The ability of their forwards to recycle the ball at speed and the lethal pace of their backs made them irresistible. Kacala was a key figure, aiming mostly at Neil Back. The flanker never once flinched but could do little to halt Brive's momentum. Only the French could ignore the claims of so many top-quality forwards for the national side, although it has to be said that one of their most important figures was a New Zealander, Grant Ross. It was his line-out work which did more than any- thing else to shatter Leicester's confidence.
In the second half Leicester did not win one clean line-out until three minutes from the end. Brive made the most of their possession scoring three more tries, the first by Fabre from Alain Penaud's perfectly flighted miss-pass to the remarkable Viars. Penaud was another key figure, wasting no opportunity to attack but also ensuring that he kept maximum pressure on Leicester's defence with astute kicks to the corners and down the middle towards John Liley.
The two final blows were struck by Sebastien Carrat and set against Viars' try they were almost prosaic. They were nevertheless sumptuous efforts. The first was the result of combined running across field between forwards and backs and the second owed everything to Viars' pace and angle of running. Lamaison, who had earlier dropped a goal had by now rediscovered the touch, timing and rhythm of his kicking action and he calmly landed the conversion to put the gloss on what had been a collective performance of enduring brilliance.
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, W Greenwood, S Potter, R Underwood; R Liley, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth (P Freshwater, 16- 23), M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt, E Miller, 70), N Back.
Brive: S Viars; G Fabre, C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat; A Penaud (capt, R Paillat, 72), P Carbonneau; D Casadei, L Travers, R Crespy, E Allegret, G Ross, L Van Der Linden (Y Domi, 78), F Duboisset (T Labrousse, 58), G Kacala.
Referee: D Bevan (Wales).Reuse content