Toulouse victorious in tense Heineken Cup decider

Biarritz 19 Toulouse 21

Biarritz 19 Toulouse 21

Heineken Cup kings Toulouse landed their fourth European title after subduing Biarritz’s late revival in a tense final at Stade de France.

Fly-half David Skrela and centre Florin Fritz shared Toulouse’s points, Skrela booting two drop-goals and three penalties, while Fritz followed a mammoth penalty strike with a drop-goal.

Biarritz mustered four Dimitri Yachvili penalties before their Australian rugby league import Karmichael Hunt scored a late try – converted by substitute Valentin Courrent – to spark a nerve-tingling finale.

But Toulouse held on, making Biarritz pay for not building on a promising 9-3 advantage midway through the second quarter.

Toulouse are masters of knockout rugby, and once Skrela took charge to keep their noses in front, the trophy was on its way back to southern France for the first time since 2005.

As on that occasion – against Stade Francais at Murrayfield – Toulouse failed to cross the opposition line, but they deserved their victory, even if in the end it proved too close for comfort.

Biarritz, Heineken runners-up for the second time in five seasons, failed to handle a dominant Toulouse scrum, and that underpinned their defeat.

Toulouse made a bright start, launching a dangerous attack that had their skipper Thierry Dusautoir as its pivotal figure, but Biarritz did not panic and snuffed out the danger.

Yachvili’s opening penalty success gave Toulouse food for thought, and he doubled the advantage after 16 minutes with a second successful kick.

His angled strike bounced over via the post, unlike Skrela’s first penalty chance that hit the upright and bounced safe from a Biarritz perspective.

Toulouse then opened their account when specialist long-range kicker Fritz landed a 55-metre penalty, only for him to undo his good work almost immediately.

Balshaw attempted an attack just inside Toulouse’s half, and despite him posing little danger, Fritz gifted Yachvili another penalty chance when he illegally tackled the England Test player.

Yachvili made no mistake for a 9-3 advantage, yet just when it looked as though underdogs Biarritz might carve out a healthy interval advantage, Toulouse stormed back.

Skrela found his range from 45 metres, and then Balshaw was pressed into some critical defensive work after Toulouse freed wing Maxime Medard, who tried to take the Biarritz full-back on the outside.

Balshaw did his job, but Toulouse were on a roll as two Skrela penalties in quick succession levelled it up before Fritz dropped a goal.

Referee Wayne Barnes required clarification from video official Graham Hughes, who confirmed the ball had bounced over following a deflection off the post.

It meant Biarritz trailed 12-9 at the break despite dominating much of the half territorially, with Toulouse edging themselves in front even though they had not remotely found top gear.

There were signs of them stirring though, and they began the second period in far more ruthless mood, looking to unleash their dangerous midfield backs.

Skrela looked to bring France Grand Slam centre Yannick Jauzion into the action far more, and holes started to appear in a Biarritz defence which was stretched in all directions.

But Toulouse allowed their opponents a clear reprieve when, after switching the angle of attack repeatedly, Maxime Medard only had to catch the ball and then free an unmarked team-mate outside him, but he dropped it.

And Biarritz immediately capitalised through a fourth Yachvili penalty after Toulouse lock Patricio Albacete was yellow-carded for blatantly tackling Biarritz hooker Benoit August without the ball.

Skrela then restored Toulouse’s advantage by landing his team’s second drop-goal, and Biarritz attempted to shore up a creaking scrum by sending on destructive loosehead prop Fabien Barcella.

As Barcella settled into the action, Biarritz’s flying American wing Takudzwa Ngwenya required treatment following a crunching collision with Medard, and it had become an increasingly defensive rearguard action by his team.

It was left to Skrela to believe he had sealed the deal through another drop-goal and penalty, but Hunt’s try set up a thrilling finish before Toulouse’s flag-waving fans could finally start celebrating.

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