Rowntree and Moody blows add to Leicester gloom

Leicester 19 - Toulouse 27
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The Independent Online

If genius is 90 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent inspiration, success in the Heineken Cup appears to turn that well-known equation on its head. Leicester, on their first visit to the Walkers Stadium, brought sweat by the bucket-load to yesterday's European semi-final, but it was the bewitching Frenchmen of Toulouse who contributed the imagination, the ingenuity and the quality. The gods of rugby must have raised a glass of nectar to them last night, for their victory, achieved in the face of considerable adversity, was richly deserved.

If genius is 90 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent inspiration, success in the Heineken Cup appears to turn that well-known equation on its head. Leicester, on their first visit to the Walkers Stadium, brought sweat by the bucket-load to yesterday's European semi-final, but it was the bewitching Frenchmen of Toulouse who contributed the imagination, the ingenuity and the quality. The gods of rugby must have raised a glass of nectar to them last night, for their victory, achieved in the face of considerable adversity, was richly deserved.

The Midlanders had their gripes and groans, not all of them illegitimate. Just as Biarritz, the other beaten semi-finalists, will swear that Tony Spreadbury, the English referee, diddled them out of a climactic trip to Murrayfield next month, Leicester felt that Alain Rolland, the Irish official, dealt them an equally questionable hand.

Two of the visitors' three tries - the first by Finau Maka in the second minute, the second by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde in the crucial minutes after half-time - had a pungent whiff of the forward pass about them, and it is a fine team indeed that concedes 14 dodgy points to Toulouse and comes up smelling of roses.

But in truth, Leicester were anything but fine yesterday. They had only one period of unchallenged domination, and by butchering two clear-cut scoring chances in the course of this golden streak either side of the 20-minute mark, they gave the Frenchmen a leg-up of considerable proportions. As Toulouse rarely require favours from anyone - they have, after all, won two Heineken Cups and 16 French championships down the years, not to mention five domestic knock-out titles - this was tantamount to collective hara-kiri.

Ollie Smith, in such blinding form of late that Sir Clive Woodward bestowed Lions status upon him despite his frequent and unfathomable absences from England's starting line-up, was the first culprit, spilling the ball close to the Toulouse line after a Leicester forward assault almost as prolonged as it was ferocious. Four minutes later, Darren Morris did something similar, and probably worse. His knock-on with the whitewash beckoning was calamitous, not least because the Tigers would not threaten again until the fifth minute of stoppage time, when the impressive young wing Tom Varndell sneaked a try of the consolation variety from the base of a ruck in the right corner.

Toulouse were already points to the good when Smith and Morris performed their Laurel and Hardy routine. Clément Poitrenaud, not so much laid-back as horizontal, fielded a poorly directed kick from Harry Ellis just two minutes into the contest, and hit Cédric Heymans with a nonchalant long pass to launch the first of his side's many meaningful attacks. Heymans, too quick for the covering Smith in open field, found Florian Fritz in support, and when the centre delivered an inside pass of debatable legality to Maka, the Leicester defence was shredded.

Sadly for the Tigers - and, perhaps, for the Lions as the summer trek of New Zealand looms on the horizon - two influential forwards broke down with knee injuries just as a significant response was being mounted. Graham Rowntree, the loose-head prop, was the first to hobble into the gloaming of the treatment room, and his problems could easily threaten his immediate participation on the tour. Lewis Moody, that most energetic of flankers, did not look too healthy either, and if suggestions of damage to his ligaments are confirmed by a scan over the next 24 hours, he too will struggle to make the flight to Auckland. Leicester may not have been particularly wise in allowing him to continue, pretty much on one leg, until the interval.

While Andy Goode, he of the Big Bertha boot, was banging over penalties awarded for regular transgressions on the floor by a Toulouse fringe defence placed under heavy pressure by the magnificent Neil Back, there was a glimmer of a chance for Leicester, and had Goode kicked a fourth three-pointer on the stroke of the interval, his side would have turned round a couple of points ahead. Heymans, a Rolls-Royce wing if ever there was one, suddenly mutated into a Robin Reliant as he spilled a speculative kick downfield, and when Jean-Baptiste Poux collapsed the resulting scrum, Goode lined up a vital right-sided opportunity. Sadly for him and his brethren, he fluffed it.

It was a bad moment all round. Ten minutes into the second half, Poitrenaud gathered another poor kick, this one from Austin Healey, and combined with Heymans and Yannick Jauzion to send Elissalde haring away down the left.

Jauzion's scoring pass was probably forward, although it could not be condemned as a Joe Montana effort. Whatever, Toulouse were 17-9 up and heading for home.

Indeed, they were entirely in the ascendant, and with the likes of Gareth Thomas and Christian Labit hurting Leicester off the bench, another try was more likely than not.

It duly arrived seven minutes from the end of normal time when Healey, who would later embarrass himself with a petulant assault on Fritz, located Thomas with another ill-advised hoof, and once the Welshman spotted an overlap going right, nothing in the world could stop the humungous Isitolo Maka creating the score for the rather less substantial Frédéric Michalak.

Leicester: G Murphy; A Healey, O Smith, D Gibson, L Lloyd (T Varndell, 75); A Goode, H Ellis (S Bemand, 68); G Rowntree (D Morris, 19), G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon, L Moody (B Kay, h-t), N Back, H Tuilagi (W Johnson, 68).

Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (G Thomas, 68); V Clerc, Y Jauzion (B Baby, 77), F Fritz, C Heymans; F Michalak (capt), J-B Elissalde (J-F Dubois, 81); J-B Poux (D Human, 54), W Servat (Y Bru, 44), O Hassan, R Millo-Chlusky, T Brennan, F Maka (C Labit, 71), J Bouilhou (I Maka, 8), G Lamboley.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

'We've got all the regrets, they deserved to win'

The Leicester captain Martin Johnson, who will retire at the end of the season, was philosophical after his side's defeat to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup semi-final yesterday.

"They took their chances and have a lot of quality," he said. "We had a couple in the first half and didn't take them so credit to them, we've got all the regrets, they deserved to win.

"The 20 minutes after half-time was the real killer. They changed their tactics, went for position and we didn't play much rugby. The big French teams have probably been a bit better than the English teams this season and we need to step up."

The Toulouse centre Yannick Jauzion was delighted. "It was a big win, we played with a lot of passion and took our opportunities," he said. "It was important to get the early try - we were able to play easier, we could kick while Leicester had to chase the game."

Toulouse lost to a last-gasp Wasps try at Twickenham in last year's final but now face Stade Français in the second all-French decider in three years, following Toulouse's Dublin victory over Perpignan in 2003.

Stade looked on the way out on Saturday in a tense encounter at the Parc des Princes, as they trailed Biarritz from the early stages until the ninth minute of injury time. But the France wing Christophe Dominici somehow found a way through to score a fine try.

"Christophe is one of those brilliant players who can always come up with things like that and we just kept trying," said Stade's scrum-half, Agustin Pichot.

Stade's first try by Jerome Fillol in the second half came after a clear knock-on during a maul in the build-up.

"There are four referees and officials out there - which is eight eyes - and they missed it. What do you want me to say about it?," said Biarritz's scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili.

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