Maka takes Toulouse to Twickenham

Toulouse 19 Biarritz 11
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The Independent Online

Munster and Wasps might have been watching this first semi-final of the Heineken Cup with an increasing degree of wonderment. Never mind the quality, feel the desperation.

Munster and Wasps might have been watching this first semi-final of the Heineken Cup with an increasing degree of wonderment. Never mind the quality, feel the desperation.

When France lost to England in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Sydney last November, Clive Woodward became quite miffed that the French mitigation was based around a downpour. "It rains in France," Woodward responded. "I've been there on my holidays."

The weather yesterday was delightful. As the temperature rose beneath a cloudless sky at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, the error count kept pace. In the heat of the battle it was always going to be the survival of the fittest and in the end Toulouse, the reigning champions, showed a greater degree of sophistication to graduate to the final at Twickenham next month. In an engrossing, though far from vintage semi-final, they knocked out Biarritz by a goal, three penalties and a drop-goal to a try and two penalties. They just about deserved it.

What Toulouse possessed, in the final analysis, was their own Jonny Wilkinson in the stand-off Yann Delaigue. The No 10 kicked three penalties, converted his side's only try and finished with a drop-goal for a personal haul of 14 points.

For Biarritz, Dimitri Yachvili kicked two penalties and missed with three others. In other respects Yachvili provided a touch of inspiration that was missing elsewhere. His opposite number, at least at the beginning, was Frédéric Michalak.

When France beat England in Paris to win the Six Nations Grand Slam, Michalak was at No 10 and Yachvili, the man of the match, was his scrum-half. Yesterday Michalak was by no means fit and he was replaced after half-time. What is also clear is that, fit or not, Michalak will not be the stand-off in the final against the winners of today's semi-final.

It did not look good for Toulouse in the opening minutes: their captain Fabien Pelous needed a fresh bandage to his knee; the centre Cedric Desbrosse also went down with a leg injury, quickly followed by the No 8 Christian Labit. Nonetheless, Toulouse survived a ferocious opening and took the lead in the 12th minute when Delaigue, from an easy position, kicked the first of his penalties.

Even at an early stage it was clear that the Biarritz pack, led by the Test No 8 Thomas Lièvremont, were something of a handful. Their driving mauls earned a penalty which, from a reasonable position, Yachvili hooked wide. Toulouse were against the ropes, Desbrosse receiving a warning from the English referee Tony Spreadbury for punching and Pelous for a dangerous tackle. After 18 minutes Yachvili found the target to level the scores.

Delaigue regained the lead with a penalty in the 23rd minute, whereas Yachvili failed with an easier attempt a few minutes later. Perhaps it was not surprising. The pressure of the occasion was getting to almost everybody and there were so many nervous knock-ons that Spreadbury spent a lot of his time waving his arms around like a windmill.

Both scrum-halves were heavily targeted and in first-half injury time Yachvili's pass, under intense pressure, was intercepted by Michalak. Had he been fit he would probably have made it on his own. In the event he was cut off but when Toulouse ran right a try should have resulted. The fact that it didn't was down to an extraordinary decision by the prop Patrice Collazo who, with a huge overlap, elected to put in a delicate but futile chip which rolled aimlessly over the Biarritz line.

However, as the half went in to the sixth minute of injury time. Delaigue kicked his third penalty to make it 9-3 at the interval.

The first try of the match looked like being created by a brilliant pass from Yachvili when, with almost no space to manoeuvre, he released the lock David Couzinet, who in turn gave an inside pass to the wing Jimmy Marlu. Had he caught the ball he would have been in but he knocked-on.

Yachvili sliced a penalty attempt but then knocked one over from almost 50 yards to make it 9-6 and a few minutes later a marvellous touch finder from the scrum-half gave Biarritz a great attacking opportunity which, this time, they did not squander. Thibault Lacroix made a half break in midfield and with a quick switch to the right Nicolas Brusque threw out a long pass to the wing Philippe Bidabe, who had the space to sprint to the corner.

After 51 minutes Biarritz had hit the front but their red and white choir was soon silenced. Toulouse had a super sub up their sleeves in the back row forward Isitolo Maka. Although his brother Finau Maka was replaced, Isitolo, on for Labit, made a tremendous impact. He initiated a drive through the heart of Biarritz and when he regained possession he smashed his way to the line, planting the ball one handed for a try. Delaigue's conversion and subsequent drop-goal confirmed the win.

Toulouse 19 Biarritz 11
Try: Maka; Try: Bidabe
Con: Delaigue
Pens: Delaigue 3; Pens: Yachvili 2
Drop: Delaigue

Half-time: 9-3 Attendance: 35,200

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, C Desbrosse, Y Jauzion, C Heymans (N Jeanjean, 80); Y Delaigue, F Michalak (S Dupuy, 45); P Collazo, W Servat (Y Bru, 45), J-B Poux, F Pelous (capt), T Brennan (R Millochluski, 80), J Bouilhou, C Labit (I Maka, 54), F Maka (D Gerard, 57).

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bidabe, M Gaitan (P Bernat-Salles, 66), T Lacroix, J Marlu; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan (S Puleoto 65), J-M Gonzales, D Avril, H Manent, D Couzinet (O Nauroy, 62), S Betsen, T Liévremont (capt), O Tonita.

Referee: T Spreadbury (England).

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