Toulouse win record fifth European Champions Cup in La Rochelle thriller

·3-min read

Toulouse saw off 14-man French rivals La Rochelle to be crowned European kings for a record fifth time following a dramatic finish to the Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.

La Rochelle had to play most of the match a man down after centre Levani Botia was red-carded for a head-high shoulder charge on Toulouse full-back Maxime Medard in the 28th minute.

"The history is everywhere around the club, it hits you straight way when you get there so for us it was a huge motivating factor to live up to the standard that had already been set up for us," Toulouse No 8 Jerome Kaino told Channel 4.

"To be able to get that fifth star is unreal," he added.

Yet the score was still level at 12-12 until, on the hour mark, Toulouse centre Juan Cruz Mallia crossed for the opening try of the match.

France fly-half Romain Ntamack, who along with La Rochelle counterpart Ihaia West had already kicked four penalties, converted to put Toulouse seven points in front.

Ntamack landed another penalty, with Toulouse now two scores in front at 22-12 and barely 10 minutes left.

Yet in the 73rd minute La Rochelle hit back with a try from Tawera Kerr Barlow.

But West's conversion bounced off the post and clear, meaning his side now needed a try, rather than a penalty, to draw level with time running out.

It was a task that proved just beyond a La Rochelle side bidding for a first Champions Cup crown.

- 'Indisciplined' -

La Rochelle coach Ronan O'Gara, a two-time European champion as a player with Munster, said he had "no complaints" about Botia's early exit.

"We were inaccurate and indisciplined in the first half regardless of the red card," the former Ireland fly-half added.

"The character of this team was never in doubt -- there are a lot of positives when we pushed them to 22-17 with 14 men.

"It was a wet day which didn't suit us. But losers make excuses. We weren't good enough today."

Victory maintained Top 14 leaders Toulouse's record of never losing a European final against French opponents following wins over Perpignan (2003), Stade Francais (2005) and Biarritz (2010).

It also meant Ugo Mola joined Leinster's Leo Cullen in being a European Champions Cup winner as both player and coach.

France were already assured of a European club double after Montpellier beat England's Leicester 18-17 at Twickenham in Friday's second-tier Challenge Cup final.

Ntamack and West exchanged early long-range penalties in a match played in front of a crowd reduced to 10,000 by Covid regulations.

The son of three-time Champions Cup winner Emile Ntamack then made it 6-3 with West levelling after being denied by the woodwork for the first time in the match only for Botia to see red after a sickening hit.

English referee Luke Pearce initially awarded a yellow card but, after reviewing the incident on the giant screen, he changed his decision to red.

Yet La Rochelle still edged in front at 9-6 with a West penalty before Ntamack equalised.

But he last kick of the half, saw West edge La Rochelle into a 12-9 lead.

West, however, missed a chance to make it 15-9 early in the second half when he pulled a penalty wide.

Toulouse then almost had a try but South Africa World Cup-winning wing Cheslin Kolbe, diving in at the corner following France scrum-half Antoine Dupont's kick, was forced into touch by Geoffrey Doumayrou's superb cover tackle.

Ntamack levelled the scores at 12-12 before Toulouse eventually made their advantage count.

The fly-half's pass over the top found Selevasio Tolofua and the ball was moved inside to Argentina's Mallia, who raced in for a try.

But Kiwi No 9 Kerr Barlow revived La Rochelle with a try from a blindside snipe off a rolling maul only for compatriot West to again see a goal-kick hit the post.

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