Llanelli Scarlets; tremendous comeback said it all for the Heineken Cup. This was a great game of competitive and highly skilled rugby and typical of a competition that some of the French want to back out of.
Toulouse would have every reason to think that way themselves this morning as they contemplate a home defeat that puts them out of a tournament they once dominated. But deep down they know that this is the sort of rugby challenge great clubs need. Matching yourself against sides from different countries and different playing styles is vital for the development of your team and players.
Towards the end of the first half, Toulouse could be forgiven for thinking they were involved in a straightforward gallop to victory. They just smashed the Scarlets and at 24-3 up they looked on top of their game.
It wasn't that the visitors started badly. The Welsh team had a lot of ball and looked good in the set-pieces, but they allowed themselves to become isolated in the contact area and were either penalised or turned over. In defence they left a few gaps that were mercilessly exploited by Toulouse, who seemed to possess all the essentials - their passing was superb, their off-loads and angles of running were brilliant and they were so powerful in the contact area. And in Clément Poitrenaud they had a finisher who looked irresistible. He must still be wondering how he managed to score four tries and finish on the losing side.
The answer was the amazing self-belief which persuaded the Scarlets they were still in the game. Their try just before the interval was a timely boost, all the more so because of the flowing way they scored it with a lovely inside ball to Dafydd James.
The second half produced Poitrenaud's scything fourth try but it also saw a marked improvement in the Scarlets' play. They were probably fired at first merely by the desire to try to squeeze a bonus point out of the game but suddenly their attacks were not getting isolated and bogged down. They were making promising progress - and their defence had become efficient and heroic.
As the gap between the scores decreased you could sense that their ambition was rising beyond a bonus point towards victory. The anxious touchline face of the Toulouse coach Guy Noves showed that he was sensing the same thing.
The real turning point came when Darren Daniel was judged to have scored a try after a defender had failed to touch down a kick ahead. The decision went to the video official; I thought that the defender had been illegally tackled but the try was given. Even then we thought the Scarlets had pulled off enough of a miracle in drawing level, but they produced a winning flourish in injury time. Stephen Jones shaped to attempt a drop-goal but fed the excellent Regan King, who went through to flip up a pass for Nathan Thomas to score.
The Scarlets are gathering confidence that they can go all the way. What has been particularly helpful is working with the referee Nigel Owens to help reduce the massive number of penalties they were giving away.
They haven't won their pool yet, and have to go to Ulster when the cup resumes next year, but their have earned the right not to be afraid of any fixture, even one at Ravenhill.
I have no doubt that the French, in the shape of Stade Français and Biarritz, will still have a big say in this tournament, but the Scarlets will be a force to be reckoned with. As for the cup itself, I am afraid that finance is behind attempts to persuade the French clubs to pull out.
I am sure, however, that if they viewed it in pure rugby terms they would realise that they would be taking a backward step internationally if they retired to domestic competition. The same applies to the English clubs.Reuse content