Rugby Union: Toulouse eclipse skills of Serevi

Leicester 22 Toulouse 23
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The Independent Online
When rugby is played as it was by both sides at Welford Road yesterday it is without question the noblest of games.

It helped, of course, that the result hinged on the very last kick of the match, when the Toulouse fly-half Yann Delaigue had the conversion of Stephane Ougier's try to win the game. As Ougier had scored a couple of yards in from the right-hand touchline Delaigue's task was far from straightforward. But the Frenchman kept his head cool - and more to the point kept it down as he struck the ball with pinpoint precision between the posts. The feat was greeted with stunned silence by the home crowd, who had seen what would have been a famous victory snatched away.

But the truth is that Toulouse were worthy winners. From the start they had played the game at breakneck speed, some of their most fluent passages taking play from one end of the field to the other in the blink of an eye. In their flanker Sylvin Dispagne and the No 8 Fabian Pelous they had the two most influential players on the field. On the day they obliterated their opposite numbers Neil Back and Eric Miller, although Martin Corry, the third of the Leicester back row triumvirate, won some first-class possession in the line-out.

In the face of this surging tide, Leicester displayed admirable resilience. They also had Waisale Serevi - master of the sevens art - who yesterday showed that he is no slouch when it comes to the real thing. The little fly-half all but won the game with two touches of sheer wizardry. The first came on 24 minutes, after Ougier had given Toulouse the lead with a penalty. With the French showing signs of fallibility at the line-out, Leicester snaffled the ball from one of many poor throws from Patrick Soula. Serevi, taking the ball flat, chipped delicately over the onrushing defence and with sublime effrontery gathered one-handed to send Will Greenwood streaking 35 yards for the try.

Then, on the very stroke of half-time and with Toulouse coming back strongly into the match he sold an outrageous dummy to score under the posts. For good measure he converted and once again Toulouse had a major repair job to do. This was all the harder because Leicester had themselves done a massive repair job on their scrummage since the last meeting between the sides. The front rows spent most of the first half engaged in a mighty power struggle which had the referee Jim Fleming in a constant state of confusion. Whatever decision he made in the circumstances was going to be the wrong one, but it has to be said that his was not one of the Scotsman's best days. There was a time in fact when the macho struggle threatened to hijack the game, which would have been a calamity given the richness of the unfolding spectacle.

Mercifully, Toulouse realised infighting was not in their best interests and they strained every sinew to keep the ball moving at full pelt. They got over their line-out difficulties too and as the second half moved towards its pulsating finale Leicester showed signs of wear and tear.

It was an unforced error which led to Roumauld Paillat's try two minutes after the restart. Austin Healey, running into midfield, delivered a dreadful pass behind Mitch Read and Paillat was on to it in a flash kicking up to the line and gathering the favourable bounce to score. Neil Back quelled the mounting alarm within Leicester's ranks breaking off the side of a maul following a line-out close to the Toulouse line.

His try gave Leicester a six-point cushion which, had they been able to break the Frenchmen's spirit in the process. would have been enough. but Toulouse had as much character as they had skill. They re-grouped and, if anything, increased the pace with a series of bewitching manoeuvres. Delaigue kicked his second penalty which Serevi matched 12 minutes from time.

In the face of the surging onslaught 12 minutes was too long. From a short penalty Ougier blasted his way over for the try and Delaigue kicked points to win the match and very probably automatic qualification for the quarter-final. In truth this competition should be big enough for both these fine sides.

Leicester: M Horak; M Read, W Greenwood, S Potter, T Barlow; 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 Bonouy, P Lapoutge (D Berty, 68); Y Delaigue, J Cazalbou (capt); C Califano, P Soula, F Tournaire, H Miorin (D Couzinet 72), F Bellot, D Lacroix (C Labit, 61), F Pelous, S Dispagne.

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).