Noves savours the moment

HE may have looked strangely subdued come the final whistle in Paris on Saturday, but Toulouse coach Guy Noves livened up somewhat when praising his team after they recorded a record fourth Heineken Cup triumph.

Noves, often compared to football’s Alex Ferguson for his longevity and success with one club, looked more like a contemplative Jose Mourinho as the celebrations began at the final whistle in the Stade de France, following his side’s 21-19 victory.

He seemed to be in a world of his own, displaying the demeanour of a man whose side had been defeated, rather than one who had masterminded a victory which ensures a place in European rugby’s history books.

Recently named the best coach in the Heineken Cup’s 15-year history, Noves was keen to spread the plaudits around following this triumph.

The 56-year-old hailed his team after a win based around a dominant set-piece which destroyed the Basque team, notably at the scrum, and the all-round game of David Skrela at out-half.

Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili kicked four penalties for Biarritz, who led 6-0 and 9-3 in the first half, before Toulouse stretched out to a 21-12 advantage thanks to three Skrela penalties and two drop-goals, as well as a penalty and a long-range drop from Florian Fritz.

Karmichael Hunt – a rugby league convert who is now set to try his hand at Aussie Rules next – scored a late try, converted by Valentin Courrent, but Toulouse held on relatively comfortably.

“It’s true that we were left shaking at the end when they scored since we’d largely dominated the game up until then,” admitted Noves.

“Our scrum’s been great all season long. We dominated that phase of the game.

“But we also have a gameplan based around speed and movement, and there was frustration for the players that they weren’t rewarded as the final pass often went begging.”

Toulouse had previously annexed the cup in 1996, 2993 and 2005, as well as twice being losing finalists (2004, 2008).

“It means everything to our club, our youngsters,” added Noves. “It’s thanks to good recruitment, and really is the fruit of 50 players and down to the quality of assistant coaches and all back-room staff.

“It’s been very tough balancing the Top 14, European Cup and international matches.

“We’d said that our priority this season was the European Cup and we’ve fulfilled our contract. We gave it all for this.”

Biarritz coach Jack Isaac was magnanimous in defeat, admitting his team had been outplayed over the 80 minutes.

“It wasn’t great,” the Australian said of his team’s poor showing in the scrum. “Up until now it was a part of the game where we were strong.

“It’s always been a good base to launch the game but today we suffered against a very good Toulouse scrum which was foundation of the victory. I have no answer for their dominance.

“For me a successful season means winning a title, so it’s been a good season but no more than that.” Toulouse scrum-half Byron Kelleher was ecstatic after notching his first Heineken Cup success.

“It’s an awesome sensation. I have won the Top 14 and that was an awesome atmosphere, but year after year this competition gets tougher and it is a huge challenge to come out as European champions,” said Kelleher.

It proved a bittersweet day for Toulouse’s Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, who claimed a medal despite spending the 80 minutes on the bench, before announcing his retirement from rugby after the game.

The versatile 32-year-old could play at both scrum-half and fly-half and was capped 35 times by France. He will take part in the Barbarians matches in June before joining the backroom staff at Toulouse.

BIARRITZ: I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, A Mignardi, K Hunt, J-B Gobelet; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; E Coetzee, B August, C Johnstone, J Thion (capt), T Hall, M Lund, I Harinordoquy, W Lauret.

Replacements: F Barcella for Coetzee (49), P Bidabé for Gobelet (58), , M Carizza for Thion, F Faure for Lauret (both 59), R Terrain for August (67), V Courrent for Yachvili (70).

TOULOUSE: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, M Medard; D Skrela, B Kelleher; J-B Poux, W Servat, B Lecouls, R Millo-Chluski, P Albacete, J Bouilhou, S Sowerby, T Dusautoir (capt).

Replacements: Y Maestri for Millo-Chluski (58), D Human for Pouz (60), C Johnston for Lecouls (63), C Heymans for Poitrenaud (67), Y David for Fritz, L Picomles for Sowerby (both 70), A Vernet Basualdo for Servat (72).

Referee: W Barnes (England).

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