Howley's audacity just enough to quell the hare-brained invention of Toulouse

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The Independent Online

A decade and a half of being the quiet man of rugby burst out of Rob Howley in a cacophony of emotion here yesterday, as the final whistle blew and his Wasps were crowned the kings of Europe having usurped Toulouse in the Heineken Cup final.

Welsh celebrations have been scarce indeed at Twickenham during his playing days, but Howley made up for that particular void when he sprinted to the Wasps fans, kicked his legs, jumped in the air, before punching it and screaming like he has never screamed before. Goodness knows what they would have made of it all down in the Valleys.

They would have recognised his last-gasp, match-winning effort, that's for sure. More than once before in the blue shirts of Bridgend and Cardiff - not to mention the red of Wales and the Lions - has Howley followed his own grubber kick up the touchline to pinch "miracle'' tries. But never like this. Not when the entire kit-and-caboodle of European club rugby's most glittering prize was up for grabs.

You could only feel for Clément Poitrenaud after the full-back had fatally hesitated in touching the ball down as he waited for it to cross the try-line with the game seemingly heading into extra time at 20-20. The Toulouse flyer, like all the Toulouse flyers, deserved far more from an afternoon in which their hare-brained invention had lit up the day almost as gloriously as the spring sun.

"As captain I didn't say a thing to Clément as there was still some time left to play,'' said the ever-philosophical Toulouse captain, Fabien Pelous, afterwards. "To be honest I haven't talked to him since. Perhaps it would be wise to leave a bit of time before I do that.''

A few years might be more advisable as there will be a cloud permanently in Poitrenaud's attendance for a good while yet. For Howley there is only a continuation of the Indian summer of a career that is now promising to be swansonged by a final sojourn with the Lions next year. On this form, Sir Clive Woodward daren't ignore the evergreen 33-year-old, not when he is still capable of turning vital matches in an instant.

"It was just a kick for nothing really'', admitted Howley, back in his quiet man armoury, afterwards. "It must have been my day that it didn't bounce into touch. Every try is important but I won't forget this one for a long time I can tell you. We've set our sights on this for the whole season and I am just extremely fortunate to be playing in such an extremely good side.''

His captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, was more forthcoming in his praise. "Rob is being modest as always,'' he said. "Just as he is always willing to chase every ball and squeeze every last drop of blood out of whatever is there.

"But all of us feel extremely proud to have brought the Heineken Cup to the Wasps. And it's not down to one or two people. It's down to everyone at the club. There were some wonderful tries scored out there today, including Toulouse's. We were just all so proud to be part of such a great occasion.''

In fact, the only bitter note on what was another sweet afternoon for English rugby union was that so few witnessed these most glorious of proceedings. Not the sell-out 73,000-plus crowd at Twickenham, of course, of which an estimated 6,000 came from Toulouse, but the armchair audience which really should have been as huge as the spectacle itself.

Thanks to the organisers' baffling decision' to shift the coverage from BBC to Sky, just a fraction of last year's viewing figures - perhaps as little as a tenth - would have been watching a thrilling 80 minutes that should have served as the perfect shop window for this tournament, and indeed the game as a whole.

It is criminal to think that Howley's humdinger would not have been the talk of any self-respecting pub in the country last night. Talk about locking the crown jewels in the outhouse.