Howarth the hero as Newport serve serious notice

Newport 21 Toulouse 20
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The Independent Online

Newport proved that their opening victory at Newcastle had been no one-off affair, as they just about carried enough firepower to claim a famous victory and the much-prized scalp of one of Europe's big powers against Toulouse last night. A lovely, arcing run from 10 metres out and four minutes from time by Shane Howarth gave the fly half a match-winning, converted try that sent the 10,000-strong home crowd delirious with joy, as they proclaimed their heroes serious contenders for European rugby's top prize.

Newport still have much to do to reach those heady heights but, unlike Toulouse who appear a spent force, the Black and Ambers seem to be heading in the right direction. Howarth, in addition to his clincher, also kicked three penalties to notch up a match-winning 16-point haul.

After the opening weekend of the Heineken European Cup, this encounter at Rodney Parade was critical to the fortunes of both clubs in this year's competition. Success in the tournament has demanded the knack of performing well away from home.

Newport had slotted smoothly into winning gear at Newcastle last week, while Toulouse, winners of the inaugural competition in 1996 against Cardiff, and until recently regarded as the super-power of the European club scene, found themselves on the road for a second week, after their drubbing in Dublin against an impressive Leinster eight days ago.

Apart from the high tension created by last night's near- capacity crowd, the best aspect of the opening exchanges was the lack of certainty of line-out possession, as both sides competed for the ball, and this lack of predictability at least provided some exciting play.

Newport edged possession and territory in the opening quarter with Andy Marinos, Peter Buxton and Andrew Powell, in particular, threatening on the charge, with Howarth rifling some teasing kicks, although he contrived to miss a couple of early penalty attempts that would have settled the home side in the driving seat.

While Newport looked the more dominant, Toulouse appeared composed, with their defence rarely under threat. This was in part due to their organisation and discipline, but was also assisted by Newport's predictability in attack, where the preference was to look for charging forwards with the inside pass, instead of seeking space and the challenge of beating a man with some nimble footwork.

However, the burly right wing Matt Mostyn did show a neat turn of foot after 25 minutes when a delayed clearance from his opposite number Michel Marfaing struck him on the leg, allowing Mostyn to gather the kind bounce and just about make the try line for the game's opening score.

Xavier Garbajosa and Nicolas Jeanjean displayed some silky running skills, as did scrum-half Jerome Fillol after half an hour, as he hacked on Franck Tournaire's delivery, and won the chase at the posts. Marfaing converted, but Howarth slotted in a penalty for offside to round off the first-half scoring and secure a one-point interval lead for the hosts.

Toulouse, with the early-evening breeze now at their backs after half-time, started kicking for position through half backs David Aucagne and Fillol, and challenged Newport to run from deep. Marfaing reclaimed the lead for Toulouse with a 30-metre penalty before scrum half Fillol picked up under pressure from a 25-metre scrum and darted through for a superb solo effort, which Marfaing again converted.

Marfaing slotted in another penalty, before Howarth replied with two of his own to set up an exciting finale, to which he provided the climax with his decisive score.

Newport: M Pini; M Mostyn, A Marinos, J Pritchard, M Watkins; S Howarth, O Tonuu; R Snow (C Jones 73), J Richards, A Garvey (C Anthony 65), S Raiwalui (capt), M Voyle, P Buxton, J Forster (J Powell 65), A Powell.

Toulouse: F Michalak; N Jeanjean, C Desbrosse, X Garbajosa, M Marfaing; D Aucagne, J Fillol; B Lecouls (L Esposito 73), Y Bru, F Tournaire, D Gerard, F Pelous (capt), D Lacroix (J Bouilhou 66), S Dispagne (F Maka 75), I Maka.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

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