Cup caps a season of magic for Thomas

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Life has been a moving experience for Gareth Thomas these past 12 months, and not just because he left his native Wales to join Toulouse at the beginning of the season, or because he moved house last week.

By Paul Stephens, at Murrayfield

Life has been a moving experience for Gareth Thomas these past 12 months, and not just because he left his native Wales to join Toulouse at the beginning of the season, or because he moved house last week.

Thomas has tasted success before, though nothing had prepared him for the season of his life. In July, the big Welshman will be 31, so there are not many more grand occasions left to him to savour before the sand has run through the glass.

But Thomas will look back on 2005 as the year when all the rugby tumblers dropped into position.

First there was the captaincy of Wales, and though he missed the Six Nations' Grand Slam climax with a broken thumb, the revival of Wales' fortunes was a great source of pride for him after 83 caps for his country.

His decision to join Toulouse has brought about a noticeable improvement in his game, whether at full-back or on the wing, where his immense strength, packed into a 16st 3lb frame, enables him to move most things out of his path. And how.

"I had to pinch myself to realise that I would be playing in the final of the biggest club tournament in Europe," said Thomas after the final whistle yesterday.

"I've only been at Toulouse for a year but this is the reason why I joined the club. This has been the first final of my professional career. What an occasion to start with. I've reached the European quarter-finals with Cardiff, but today was something else. And to win was absolutely fabulous."

With a Test place in New Zealand with the Lions as his next target, Thomas still has plenty to aim for.

Only two minutes into a disappointing first half in Edinburgh, Thomas was a few centimetres from glory with his first touch of the ball. His understanding with Frédéric Michalak, the Toulouse outside-half, is almost telepathic, as was witnessed by his setting up of the crucial try in the semi-final defeat of Leicester. Michalak touched that down and put an end to the Tigers' Heineken Cup ambitions.

This time Michalak cross-kicked to his left and Thomas, already in purposeful motion, caught the ball on the full, though he stumbled in avoiding stepping into touch and his inside pass went to ground.

It was so nearly the most important delivery Thomas has made since he was a postman in Bridgend. But, like much else in Toulouse's performance, it was lost in the final stride.

There was a trademark burst through the middle in the third quarter and a barging run up the touchline, though each time the Stade defence, well aware of the danger Thomas posed, shut him off with a gang tackle.

With the clock barely ticking into extra time, Thomas was hauled down a metre short in the right corner. No one else on either side got as close to scoring a try as the man the Welsh call "Alfie". Had he crossed the whitewash, it might have felt as good as winning the lottery.

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