Quins steal cup as Leonard provokes Chanal aggression

Harlequins 27 Montferrand 26
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The Independent Online

Jason Leonard, match-winner. No, seriously. After several million games of top-notch rugby over the best part of two decades - after a zillion mauls and a google of scrums, not to mention the occasional tackle - the grand old man of the English game finally clinched a match single-handedly on his last appearance for Harlequins. And how did he manage this long-awaited feat? By getting himself punched. It just goes to show that outside-halves and open-side flankers do not have a monopoly on being in the right place at the right time. Prop forwards can do it too.

With less than a minute left of an error-strewn Parker Pen Challenge Cup final, the gifted but spectacularly indisciplined Frenchmen of Montferrand were six points to the good, five metres from the Harlequins line and, crucially, in control of the ball.

In desperation, Leonard tractored his way through a small army of bodies and stretched himself out on the wrong side of the ruck with a view to half-inching some possession. He certainly expected to find himself on the painful end of a kicking, and could not have complained had he been penalised. Instead, he was thumped - not by some hulking great front-row rival, but by Raphael Chanal, a mere centre.

Chanal had been down this road before - less than 20 minutes earlier, he had been dispatched to the sin-bin for landing an uppercut on Tani Fuga - and when a touch-judge spotted this second piece of half-witted pugilism, perpetrated inches from his gimlet gaze, a sending-off was inevitable.

Thus armed with the ball for the first time in immediate memory, Quins banged it down the touchline, won the line-out, attacked left then right and were rewarded with the sight of Simon Keogh, a low-slung scuttler playing out of position on the wing, slipping away from Olivier Magne and Aurelien Rougerie and touching down at the sticks. Andy Dunne converted - if the Irishman plays this game until he is 90, he will not be presented with an easier opportunity to secure a European title - and the referee, Nigel Whitehouse, blew for time. Game, set and match. Thanks for coming.

"A funny thing, that punch," Leonard said. "Chanal certainly gave me a whack - he's not shy, that's for sure - but it was completely out of keeping with the nature of the match. In fact, Tony Diprose stomped off towards our posts, thinking I was the one who'd been penalised. I tried to tell him - 'It's all right Dippy,' I said, 'they've done the other bloke' - but he wouldn't listen. It was only when Chanal walked off the field that he realised we were still in with a shout."

So Harlequins, outplayed for much of this eighth second-tier Euro final, left the Madejski Stadium with a silver pot in one hand and a 2004-05 Heineken Cup place in the other. And Montferrand? They, as Ann Robinson might say, left with nothing. Less than nothing, in fact, for they can now start calculating the amount of money they will not earn through their lack of Heineken rugby next term. Chanal cost his colleagues more than a match. He cost them their livelihoods.

"As a coach, you can improve many things," spluttered Alain Hyardet, the poor sap charged with extracting value-for-money performances from a squad of lavishly paid under-achievers. "You can work on the scrum, the line-out, the defensive organisation. What you cannot improve is individual discipline, which is a personal responsibility."

Quite right, but the coach may yet carry the can for failing to improve the unimprovable. When the Montferrand grandees meet to discuss the whys and wherefores of another nine-month exercise in frustration, they will spend more time debating Hyardet than Chanal.

Not that the centre was alone in helping Quins to the goodies. Sebastien Kuzbik made a howling mess of Will Greenwood's diagonal punt, thereby handing Gavin Duffy the softest of opening tries; Oliver Azam, utterly magnificent in so many ways, lost himself in the red mist just often enough to give Paul Burke the occasional life-saving shot at goal; Magne, one of the most predatory flankers in world rugby on his day, chose this match to reveal the hunter-gatherer instincts of a Loch Fyne kipper.

Whoever described success as one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration knew a thing or two about humankind. Quins spent long periods of this contest wondering what a rugby ball might look like, yet tackled themselves silly for 80-plus minutes, held their nerve under pressure and came up smelling of roses.

"When you win as many games in the last two or three minutes as we have recently, it does something very positive to the psychology of the team," said Mark Evans, their head honcho. Quite what this will do to the psychology of Montferrand, God only knows.

Harlequins: Tries Duffy, Keogh; Conversion Dunne; Penalties Burke 4, Dunne. Montferrand: Tries Azam, Mignoni; Conversions Floch 2; Penalties Floch 3; Drop goal Merceron.

Harlequins: G Duffy; G Harder, W Greenwood, M Deane (S Keogh, 55), U Monye; P Burke (A Dunne, 61), S Bemand; M Worsley (C Jones, 61), T Fuga, J Dawson (J Leonard, 72), S Miall, J Evans (W Davison, 67), P Sanderson, A Vos (capt), A Diprose.

Montferrand: A Floch; A Rougerie, R Chanal (A Audebert, 22-30), A Marsh (capt), S Kuzbik (S Viars, 59); G Merceron, P Mignoni; C Soulette (L Emmanuelli, 72), O Azam, D Attoub, H Louw (E Pearce, 50), T Privat, M Raynaud, O Magne, E Vermeulen (A Audebert, 50).

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).