TOULOUSE scrum-half Byron Kelleher admitted that his side’s Top 14 title win has somewhat eased the pain of their Heineken Cup final loss to Munster.
Kelleher helped his side to a pulsating 26-20 win over Clermont Auvergne in Saturday’s final in Paris, then revealed he intends to stay at the newly-crowned French champions for “as long as possible” after admitting he has fallen in love with the club.
“I am very happy. The World Cup was a big disappointment for me but I came to Toulouse and I have been adopted by the people here,” said Kelleher. “I have been integrated into the team and have become a leader.
“We lost the final of the Heineken Cup, so I am so happy to have won the Top 14 title.”
The 31-year-old, who was in tears at the end of the win over Clermont, added that he hopes to renegotiate his contract this week to extend his stay in La Ville Rose.
Toulouse, who have endured a marathon season punctuated by a mountain of injuries, were strangled by Munster in Cardiff six weeks ago, going down 16-13 as the Irish province stifled their running game.
However, William Servat and Maxime Medard both pounced for tries on Saturday, while Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Maleli Kunavore and Valentin Courrent kicked the rest of the points as they overcame a Clermont outfit that had beaten them to the top spot in the regular season.
Toulouse coach Guy Noves hailed his players’ capacity to triumph in adversity His side struggled in both the European and domestic competitions last season, but Noves is delighted to be able to make the critics eat their words this time around.
“I am very sorry for those who criticised us,” he added. “It’s a great satisfaction for me, especially seeing as some said we were in crisis last season.
“I hope these people will eat some humble pie — I am happy to win this because I know it will annoy people.”
Noves added that he was surprised by his team’s ability to dig deep when it really mattered, after such a tough season.
“The players have shown magnificent character in this final,” said the 54-year-old.
“This is my 10th final and my players continue to surprise me. I didn’t think they would be able to find the energy to get through all the difficulties that we have experienced this season.
“But everyone at the club fought hard — from the president to the board to the coaches. We have never felt like more of a club.”
In a pulsating encounter in the French capital, the two sides went into the interval level at 10-10 but Toulouse had the better of the second half.
Full-back Medard’s try with 20 minutes left was the clincher as his side managed to see out the contest, despite conceding a last-gasp score to prop Davit Zirakashvili.
Clermont have now lost back-to-back Top 14 finals — they were defeated by Stade Francais 12 months ago — but will nevertheless be delighted with the progress they have made this campaign.
Coach Vern Cotter said: “I am proud of the run the players have gone on this year. But we didn’t get into this match and we know we can play better than that. That is two finals we have lost now; that is enough.
“When I look back at the season as a whole, the team has grown. But we just weren’t there (in the final), we are conscious of that.”
Scorers for Toulouse: Tries: Servat, Médard try each; Elissalde 2 cons, 2 pens; Kunavore, Courrent pen each. Scorers for Clermont: Rougerie, Zirakashvili try each; James 2 cons, 2 pens CLERMONT: B Baby; A Rougerie (c), G Canale, M Joubert, N Nalaga; B James, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli, M Ledesma, D Zirakashvili; T Privat, J Cudmore; J Bonnair, A Audebert, E Vermeulen.
Replacements: S Bai for Canale, T Domingo for Emmanuelli (both 52), C Samson for Cudmore (56), S Broomhall for Vermeulen (62) A Floch for Baby (65), L Jacquet for Privat (66), J Smit for Ledesma (68). TOULOUSE: M Médard; Y Donguy, M Kunavore, Y Jauzion, C Heymans; JB Elissalde, B Kelleher; D Human, W Servat, O Hasan; P Albacete, F Pelous; J Bouilhou, T Dusautoir, S Sowerby.
Replacements: JB Poux for Human, F Maka for Dusautoir (both 56), F Fritz for Elissalde (63), R Millo-Chulski for Pelous (65), G Lamboley for Sowerby (76), A Vernet for Servat, V Courrent for Kunavore (both 78).
Referee: Eric Darrière.
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