With a toast to absent friends Toulouse, who won the first Heineken Cup seven years ago, regained possession of the blue riband of European rugby yesterday in a final dominated by the boot of Yann Delaigue and a gale-force wind which tore through Lansdowne Road.
Toulouse did not triumph in the style of odds-on favourites, and for most of the match were shoved onto the back foot by the hunger and tenacity of the superior Perpignan forwards. They must have been crying into their beer last night, not only for the result, but for the fact that Christian Labit, the Toulouse No 8, had been named man of the match, presumably by somebody with a white stick and a guide dog.
Labit was anonymous, outplayed by any number of the Perpignan pack. The crucial difference was provided by the story of the No 10s, where as Delaigue contributed 17 points with five penalties and a conversion Manny Edmonds, despite a second-half renaissance, gave an uncharacteristically unreliable performance.
The Australian, often a match-winner for Perpignan, was more a match-loser here, despite receiving a surfeit of possession from his forwards. He had a poor first half, at the end of which Toulouse led 19-0, and by the time he did produce a touch of magic to create his side's only try in the 84th minute, it was too late.
The attendance was 28,600, 10,000 fewer than for the semi-final here between Leinster and Perpignan. The predominant flags were in the bacon-and -egg colours of Perpignan, but it took a long time for their team to wake up and smell the coffee.
The first half was not only one-sided in terms of the score, but in the rub of the green as well. Nothing went right for Perpignan. That impressive pack took the game to Toulouse with a series of drives, which all ended in nothing.
After one such sortie, Perpignan won a penalty only 20 yards from the Toulouse posts, but instead of kicking for goal they punted to touch and then lost the line-out. Dumb.
Even dumber was the option by Edmonds, from a far greater range, to go for a drop goal, which missed by miles. When they won another penalty within kickable range they again spurned a shot at goal, and from the subsequent line-out produced a knock-on.
In the context of the final score these were almost criminal decisions. All the while Delaigue, from a variety of distances and angles, was calmly stroking over penalties downwind, three in the first 26 minutes, and then helped to apply the coup de grâce.
It was something of a sucker punch. Jean Bouilhou stole a line-out and Yannick Jauzion handed off Edmonds before releasing the left wing Vincent Clerc, who went over on the overlap. Delaigue converted from the touchline and added another penalty to give his side a 19-point lead at the interval.
They needed it. Edmonds began chipping away, kicking four penalties from the 44th to the 71st minutes to make it 19-12, and with the Toulouse scrum often in disarray, the force, not to mention the elements, was with Perpignan.
However, on a rare incursion into enemy territory Toulouse benefited hugely from a penalty awarded by Tony Spreadbury, the English touch judge who had taken over the whistle from the referee, his compatriot Chris White, in the 14th minute. White left the field with a hamstring injury after colliding with a player during a kick and chase by Clerc.
By making no mistake with his fifth penalty Delaigue gave Toulouse valuable breathing space, giving his side a 10-point advantage which was halved in injury time when Edmonds, with a stunning crossfield kick from the outside of his right boot, laid on a try for the right wing Pascal Bomati. It was typical of Edmonds' and Perpignan's luck that his conversion attempt hit the post.
Heineken have renewed their sponsorship of the competition for another two years, which is good news for European Rugby Cup Limited. Yesterday's anti-climax, at least in terms of staging a party in the absence of the host, will not be repeated. Dublin was established as the venue for the final 12 months ago and the organisers stubbornly refused to move the match to France, despite the fact that it was an entirely Gallic affair.
The sponsors donated £45,000 to Toulouse to spend on marketing. Instead the club used it to pay for the players' travel arrangements. When their supporters found out, a huge majority decided to keep their euros in their pockets, stayed at home and watched it on television. They can fill their home stadium with a crowd of 35,000. Here no more than 2,000 made the journey, although that was a considerable improvement on the 400 who attended the inaugural final at Cardiff Arms Park in 1996, when the French club beat Cardiff 21-18 in extra time.
Perpignan, who usually travel with two Catalans and a dog, this time arrived with 3,000 supporters, some reaching Dublin via Barcelona or Rome. It was cheaper that way.
Had the final been held in France, the sponsors would have seen their showpiece abbreviated to the H Cup, due to restrictions on advertising for alcohol. In fact, even the H would have disappeared, on account that the French pronounce it 'Eineken. At least here Toulouse were able to enjoy one for the Lansdowne Road.
Perpignan 17 Toulouse 22
Try: Bomati; Try: Clerc
Pens: Edmonds 4; Cons: Delaigue
Pens: Delaigue 5
Half-time: 0-19 Attendance: 28,600
Perpignan: J-M Souverbie; P Bomati, P Giordani, C Manas, F Cermeno; M Edmonds, L Loustau; R Peillard, M Konieckiewicz (M Dal Maso, 58), N Mas (S De Besombes, 60), J Thion, R Alvarez-Kairelis, G le Corvec, P Murphy (L Mallier, 65), B Goutta (capt).
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; E Ntamack, X Garbajosa, Y Jauzion, V Clerc; Y Delaigue, F Michalak; B Lecouls, Y Bru (W Servat, 14), J-B Poux (C Soulette, 73), D Gerard, F Pelous (capt), T Brennan (F Maka, 67), C Labit, J Bouilhou.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content