European Champions Cup: Toulouse edge out La Rochelle to claim record fifth title

By Tim OscroftBBC Sport
Juan Cruz Mallia scores for Toulouse
Juan Cruz Mallia's try put Toulouse into the lead midway through the second half
European Champions Cup final
La Rochelle: (12) 17
Tries: Kerr-Barlow Pens: West (4)
Toulouse: (9) 22
Tries: Mallia Pens: Ntamack (5) Cons: Ntamack

Toulouse claimed the European Champions Cup for a record fifth time with a narrow win against 14-man La Rochelle in front of 10,000 fans at Twickenham.

La Rochelle centre Levani Botia was sent off for a dangerous tackle after 30 minutes but his side led 12-9 after a physical first half.

Juan Cruz Mallia scored the first try after an hour to put Toulouse ahead.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow dived over for La Rochelle late on to ensure a gripping finish but Toulouse held on.

The win gave Toulouse their first victory in the competition since 2010, making them the first French side to win the title since Toulon six years ago.

Mallia's try and a fifth penalty from the boot of Romain Ntamack shortly after looked to have given Toulouse enough distance from their tiring opponents, but first-time finalists La Rochelle fought back bravely.

Had Ihaia West not hit the post with two of his kicks at goal - firstly with a penalty and later when trying to convert Kerr-Barlow's try - La Rochelle might have claimed a memorable victory.

The win saw fly-half Ntamack match his father Emile, who was part of the Toulouse side that won the first Champions Cup in 1996, while captain Antoine Dupont was named European player of the year for his role in the team's success.

Most Champions Cup titles
Five: ToulouseThree: Saracens, Toulon
Four: LeinsterTwo: Leicester, Munster, Wasps

Toulouse take their time

Cheslin Kolbe is denied a try
Toulouse's star winger Cheslin Kolbe was denied a try by a superb last-ditch tackle by Geoffrey Doumayrou

Toulouse eventually made their numerical advantage count in the second half after going into the break 12-9 down.

Referee Luke Pearce could not award a try when Richie Arnold burrowed over the line at 12-12 due to lack of "compelling evidence" that the lock had touched down.

But Ntamack sparked his side into life when his long pass missed out two to find Thomas Ramos, who fed the ball back inside him to allow Mallia to race over.

And with seconds remaining as La Rochelle tried to reclaim the ball, Ntamack gave his side a fright as he was caught in possession as 80 minutes loomed on the clock before Dupont hacked the ball off the field.

Toulouse's other Champions Cup wins
1996: Toulouse 21-18 Cardiff2005: Toulouse 18-12 Stade Francais
2003: Toulouse 22-17 Perpignan2010: Toulouse 21-19 Biarritz

Ill discipline costs La Rochelle

Will Skelton tackles Antoine Dupont
Former Saracens forward Will Skelton helped La Rochelle keep France scrum-half Antoine Dupont in check during a bruising first half

There was little to choose between the two sides as Ntamack and West exchanged penalties until the turning point came with the score at 6-6.

Botia charged in on Maxime Medard with his shoulder, catching the Toulouse full-back flush on the neck, and was initially shown the yellow card having encroached within 10 metres at a penalty.

But referee Pearce reviewed it and then flashed the red card at the Fiji centre while the 32-year-old sat in the sin bin.

However, the side coached by former Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara shook off the loss of Botia to keep pressurising Toulouse, and thanks to West's boot they led 12-9 at the break.

Despite going more than a converted try behind with time running out, La Rochelle showed huge determination and scrum-half Kerr-Barlow pounced from close range to set up an enthralling climax.

As well as Botia's lack of discipline and West's missed kicks, O'Gara's side will also rue the moment when hooker Pierre Bourgarit spilled the ball over the tryline at 12-12 but they emerged from their first Champions Cup final with great credit.

Rynhardt Elstadt and Cheslin Kolbe of Toulouse celebrate
Rynhardt Elstadt and Cheslin Kolbe get the Toulouse party started

'Absolutely stoked' - what they said

Toulouse back-row forward Jerome Kaino: "I'm absolutely stoked and it didn't come easy. I'm glad we got over the line.

"The pressure comes from day one when you walk into the club and you're quite aware of the golden years. It's a relief and feels great to get that fifth star. I'm proud of the boys.

"I have to take my hat off to La Rochelle. I think the red card galvanised them.

"It was a traditional final as it went all the way down to the wire."

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara: "It was going to be tough, but we made it too tough. We were inaccurate and indisciplined in the first 40 minutes, irrespective of the red card.

"We played the rest of the game with 14, but you saw what it meant to the lads and how they dug in for each other which is pleasing.

"He (Botia) doesn't go out there intending to get a red card. He hit high which equals a red card. We are trying to make the game safer. We've no complaints."

'Dupont the heart of Toulouse team' - analysis

Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont was named European player of the year

Harlequins and England scrum-half Danny Care on BBC Radio 5 Live:

You have to feel sorry for La Rochelle after the effort they put in when down to 14 men but it's euphoria for Toulouse to win their fifth title.

They have world-class stars but Antoine Dupont is the heart of the Toulouse team. He makes big tackles and he's the guy that sparks the attack when they get a chance with the ball. He's the deserved European player of the year.

Last eight European players of the year
2021: Antoine Dupont (Toulouse)2017: Owen Farrell (Saracens)
2020: Sam Simmonds (Exeter)2016: Maro Itoje (Saracens)
2019: Alex Goode (Saracens)2015: Nick Abendanon (Clermont Auvergne)
2018: Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92)2014: Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Fans at Twickenham
The spectators seemed to enjoy the occasion as fans returned to Twickenham

Line-ups

La Rochelle: Dulin; Leyds, Doumayrou, Botia, Rhule; West, Kerr-Barlow; Priso, Bourgarit, Antonio, Sazy, Skelton, Alldritt, Gourdon, Vito

Replacements: Bosch, Wardi, Joly, Lavault, Liebenberg, Boudehent, Retiere, Plisson

Toulouse: Medard; Kolbe, Mallia, Ahki, Lebel; Ntamack, Dupont; Baille, Mauvaka, Faumuina, Rory Arnold, Ritchie Arnold, Elstadt, Cros, Kaino

Replacements: G Marchand, Castets, Ainu'u, Tekori, Flament, Tolofua, Germain, Ramos.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)

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