Toulouse crowned kings of France
June 4, 2011
Toulouse celebrate after the final whistle
© Getty Images
Toulouse beat Montpellier 15-10 at the Stade de France on Saturday night to clinch their 18th French title.
Guy Noves' side were made to work for 80 minutes by a side who made up for their lack of Championship pedigree with lashings of heart and a team spirit that has eluded many of the Top 14's big-spending clubs in recent years.
Toulouse's hopes of a first Bouclier de Brennus since 2008 appeared to be compromised at several points in a gritty contest, with Montpellier stealing a half-time lead thanks to the only try of the game, scored by winger Timoci Nagusa, and fly-half David Skrela enduring a miserable outing from the kicking tee.
The former France fly-half, playing his last game for the club before moving to Clermont Auvergne, did manage to slot three kicks, with his replacement, Nicolas Bezy, completing their comeback with two late penalties. Fans of Le Rouge et Noir will feel it was all their side deserved after their runaway success in the regular season, while Montpellier will reflect on a campaign that has made them contenders, both domestically and in Europe.
Montpellier were boosted before kick-off by the news that skipper Fulgence Ouedraogo would start despite a broken bone in his hand, the flanker wearing a protective cast throughout a personal performance that typified much of what was good about his team.
Skrela missed out with a seventh-minute penalty, one of a number of mistakes that robbed the opening minutes of fluency. Toulouse twice had Cedric Heymans and Maxime Medard in space but were unable to finish off the moves, with Rupeni Caucaunibuca also going within inches of an opportunistic try after Nagusa made a hash of dealing with a grubber into the corner.
Montpellier winger Martin Bustos Moyana also missed his first shot at the uprights, an audacious effort from all of 60 metres, but the underdogs struck the first major blow of the game at a scrum soon after. Toulouse persisted in kicking in behind the back-three and managed to force a five-metre scrum only to lose the ball against the head following a titanic shove from the Montpellier tight-five.
Francois Trinh-Duc did his best to open the scoring with a drop-goal but was well wide, and as the game stumbled along it took a moment of individual brilliance to light the touchpaper. Nagusa chipped over the head of his countryman, Caucau, and regathered the ball, skinning Heymans with a right foot step before crossing under the posts. Bustos-Moyana converted and Skrela missed with his second kick of the night soon after, with his error made to look insignificant by the loss of hooker William Servat to injury after 31 minutes.
Nagusa turned from angel to demon five minutes out from half-time, cynically slapping the ball from the hands of Jean Marc Doussain as the Toulouse scrum-half attempted to capitalise on loose possession. Skrela sent the ensuing penalty against the post but did get on the board with three points before the break after Montpellier had been pinged for offside in the shadow of the uprights.
Bustos Moyana missed another kick just before-half-time, but Montpellier extended their lead immediately after the interval. Toulouse No.8 Louis Picamoles was targeted at the kick-off and knocked on, with Trinh-Duc snaffling the ball and knocking over a snap drop-goal.
The France playmaker missed with a second attempt moments later but Montpellier remained on the front-foot, with breaks from Mamuka Gorgodze and Benjamin Thiery putting Toulouse under pressure. Nagusa returned to the fray and almost immediately conceded three points by diving on a prone Clement Poitrenaud, with Skrela landing the kick only to miss another simple shot soon after.
Toulouse ramped up the pressure but found a side willing to fight for every inch of turf in their path, with Montpellier clinging on despite being worked over at the breakdown. Skrela missed another regulation penalty as the clock ticked towards 65 minutes but was presented with another chance seconds later as Montpellier were again penalised for offside.
On that occasion he was successful to make it a one-point game, which is how it stayed after Bustos Moyana missed a difficult kick from out wide. Poitrenaud and Thierry Dusautoir then combined along the flank in a rare moment of adventure and forced Montpellier to go offside yet again, with Bezy making no mistake from in front.
Montpellier's challenge went up in smoke six minutes from the close, when replacement scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue was yellow-carded for a ruck infringement as Toulouse poured towards his line. Again Bezy was on target for a vital five-point advantage, which remained despite the frenzied efforts of Montpellier in the dying moments.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham
"These little deft touches, the nuances O'Driscoll has perfected are what Ireland will miss most." Tom Hamilton on Brian O'Driscoll's final Test in Dublin