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Toulouse edge out 14-man La Rochelle to win Champions Cup for record fifth time

By PA
(Inpho)

Toulouse claimed a record fifth European crown as they defeated 14-man French rivals La Rochelle 22-17 to win the Heineken Champions Cup final at Twickenham.

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La Rochelle centre Levani Botia became the first man to be sent off in a Champions Cup final and Toulouse eventually wore their opposition down despite being second best up front.

Juan Cruz Mallia’s second-half try was the crucial moment.

In front of 10,000 fans at Twickenham, Toulouse’s Francois Cros made an early break before his team-mate Romain Ntamack kicked an impressive penalty to open the scoring.

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La Rochelle’s Ihaia West soon cancelled it out, but he would miss three crucial kicks over the course of the game.

Toulouse lost lock Richie Arnold to injury inside the first 10 minutes.

Ntamack kicked a second penalty, but West’s next attempt came off a post and gave La Rochelle a five-metre scrum.

It was a fine attacking position with the yellow scrum well on top, but Botia knocked on.

The pressure of a final saw lots of errors made. Toulouse missed touch, Maxime Medard also spilled the ball and La Rochelle’s Gregory Alldritt ran into his own man.

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Ntamack then kicked out on the full after the ball had been passed back into his 22.

West finally gave La Rochelle a reward for their territory as he made it 6-6.

Botia then crashed into Medard with a high tackle. He was initially sin binned for stopping Toulouse’s quick penalty after his initial tackle, but the hit on Medard was checked by referee Luke Pearce.

The television pictures showed Botia’s tackle was a clear red card offence and he was sent off.

Medard was removed for a head injury assessment soon after dropping the ball.

The red card, though, did not stop La Rochelle’s intent. They kept forcing Toulouse into giving away penalties and Toulouse lost Rynhardt Elstadt to a sin binning for playing the ball on the ground.

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West and Ntamack swapped penalties again, but West’s fourth kick made it 12-9 at the break, with Medard back on the field.

West then missed the chance to extend his team’s lead when the game resumed.

Toulouse had barely fired a shot in attack, but in the 45th minute that changed. Antoine Dupont kicked to Cheslin Kolbe, who dived over in the corner.

Kolbe crossed to score, but Geoffrey Doumayrou’s stunning cover tackle had forced the South African into touch before he got downward pressure. Ntamack kicked a penalty as consolation.

La Rochelle’s Pierre Bourgarit spilled the ball with the line gaping, while Toulouse also saw a television check for a try ruled out.

Toulouse finally broke through for the crucial first try on the hour mark.

Mallia was the man to go over after a fine long pass from Ntamack, who improved the score.

Ntamack kicked another penalty and, although La Rochelle grabbed a late try through Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Toulouse became the first team to win five Champions Cups.

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finn 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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