Noves questions Owens’ final appointment

WHY Guy Noves waited until after Saturday’s game to stress his annoyance at the ERC’s decision to appoint Nigel Owens as match referee is bizarre.

If an objection needed to be made to the Heineken Cup organisers, the Toulouse head coach had three weeks to file his complaint to the competition’s decision-makers.

Instead, the Toulouse head coach waited until the post-match press conference to register his point, but it wasn’t made with any hint of bitterness or bad sportsmanship. He balanced his annoyance with Owens by praising a more streetwise Munster, who closed out the game with sustained possession and a collective will-power.

He might also have made the point that Owens only could converse in one language which can be a massive disadvantage to a team like Toulouse. He didn’t. However to suggest that the long arm of the law contributed to their 16-13 defeat would be ill-judged because, over the 80 minutes, Munster had to armoury and aggression up front to push Toulouse around at the breakdown. And, on top of that, Declan Kidney’s men possessed that cup-winning nous to shut out a match of this importance.

“I will say the official refereed in a certain way, particularly around the breakdown area,” said Noves. “I do feel that Munster got an advantage because they had the same referee in the semi-final, quarter-final and in the pool stages, which is something I have never seen before, and they were able to play to his style of refereeing,” he said.

Despite his reservations of Welshman Owens, Noves made no mention of the 60,000 Munster supporters willing their team over the finishing line with five minutes left on the clock and whether that contributed to a few schoolboy errors by his side. But supporters don’t make tackles or win collisions at the breakdown: that was a result of the work ethic of Paul O’Connell, Alan Quinlan and David Wallace, a magnificent triumvirate in this crucial contact area.

Noves was pleased with his side’s start but refused to criticise Jean-Baptiste Elissalde’s missed penalty and dropped goal in the 5th and 13th minutes respectively.

“We played very well for the first 23 minutes, put them under a lot of pressure and were pretty much camped in their half but didn’t take full advantage,” said Noves. “We were there in terms of parity in the first half. Unfortunately we were unable to convert the first penalty. We had an excellent defence which enabled us to get the drop goal.

“We know that Munster are a team of real quality. Two years ago they were the European champions.”

He also inferred that Munster are shrewd operators, that they have this ability – something one associated with Wasps under Warren Gatland – to play to the limit of the rules. That is a facet of the Munster game he hugely respects. “One of the key moments was the knock on in the 22 (in the first half) which they forced (and led eventually to the try). They did very well, to pick and go, and they pressured us all evening as well. The speed at which their defensive lines got up as well was impressive.

“Something I hugely respect them for is that they know how to play right to the limit of the rules, and that enabled them, despite our very strong defence, to get the first try.

“The disallowed try was a very, very close call and we should have taken advantage of the resulting scrum. And the fact that we didn’t do that was the turning point of the game.”

Noves conceded that Munster deserved their win and praised the role the Reds lineout played in neutralising the threat of the highly-rated Jean Bouilhou and Patricio Albacete.

“In the second half they were far more physically present, particularly at the rucks and line-out, and were able to close out the end of the game. They deserved to win, their ball retention was fantastic and they knew what they had to do to beat us.

“We know Munster are a team of great quality, but I felt a turning point was the yellow card for Fabien Pelous. Obviously you can’t argue with the referee for sending him off, but a moment of great play from Cedric Heymans allowed us come level.

“Obviously at the point we were hoping to win the game, but Munster they were far more physically present in the rucks. They got great turnover ball, they were fantastic in the lineout. Bouilhou who is extremely strong in the lineout struggled and that’s really why they closed us out at the end of the game.”

Noves is a true sportsman, and you just know this defeat hurts him like the 2004 loss to Wasps.

Les Toulousains will be back.

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