Cheslin Kolbe’s Toulouse claimed a record fifth European Champions Cup crown after beating French rivals La Rochelle in Saturday’s final at Twickenham.
LONDON – Toulouse saw off 14-man French rivals La Rochelle to be crowned European kings for a record fifth time following a dramatic finish to the Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.
La Rochelle had to play most of the match a man down after centre Levani Botia was red-carded for a head-high shoulder charge on Toulouse full-back Maxime Medard in the 28th minute.
“The history is everywhere around the club, it hits you straight way when you get there so for us it was a huge motivating factor to live up to the standard that had already been set up for us,” Toulouse No.8 Jerome Kaino told Channel 4.
“To be able to get that fifth star is unreal,” he added.
Yet the score was still level at 12-12 until, on the hour mark, Toulouse centre Juan Cruz Mallia crossed for the opening try of the match.
France fly-half Romain Ntamack, who along with La Rochelle counterpart Ihaia West had already kicked four penalties, converted to put Toulouse seven points in front.
Ntamack landed another penalty, with Toulouse now two scores in front at 22-12 and barely 10 minutes left.
Yet in the 73rd minute La Rochelle, coached by Ireland great Ronan O’Gara, a two-time European champion with Munster, hit back with a try from Tawera Kerr Barlow.
But West’s conversion bounced off the post and clear, meaning his side now needed a try, rather than a penalty, to draw level with time running out.
It was a task that proved just beyond a La Rochelle side bidding for a first Champions Cup crown.
Victory maintained Top 14 leaders Toulouse’s record of never losing a European final against French opponents following wins over Perpignan (2003), Stade Francais (2005) and Biarritz (2010).
It also meant Ugo Mola joined Leinster’s Leo Cullen in being a European Champions Cup winner as both player and coach.
France were already assured of a European club double after Montpellier beat England’s Leicester 18-17 at Twickenham in Friday’s second-tier Challenge Cup final.
The main event kicked off in rainswept conditions in front of a crowd of 10,000 — well short of Twickenham’s 80,000 capacity — but with supporters of both clubs in attendance after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Ntamack and West exchanged long-range penalties early on before the son of three-time Champions Cup winner Emile Ntamack, made it 6-3.
West was then denied by the woodwork for the first time in the match when a close range penalty bounced clear.
La Rochelle, however, were awarded another penalty soon afterwards and this time the uncapped New Zealander was on target.
But they were then a man down when Botia saw red after a hit that knocked Medard’s head backwards.
In a match already full of brutal challenges, English referee Luke Pearce initially awarded a yellow card but, after reviewing the incident on the giant screen, he changed his decision to red.
Yet La Rochelle still edged in front at 9-6 with a West penalty after Toulouse flanker Rynhardt Elstadt was sin-binned before Ntamack replied to make it 9-9.
But, with the last kick of the half, another West penalty saw La Rochelle into a 12-9 lead.
West, however, missed a chance to make it 15-9 early in the second half when he pulled a penalty wide.
Soon afterwards, Toulouse almost had a try but Kolbe, diving in at the corner following Dupont’s brilliant kick, was denied by a superb cover tackle from France centre Geoffrey Doumayrou that just forced him into touch.
Ntamack’s fourth penalty then levelled the scores at 12-12.
Toulouse eventually made the extra man count with a fine handling move.
Ntamack’s well-judged pass over the top found Selevasio Tolofua and the ball was moved inside to Mallia who raced in for a try.
But Kiwi No 9 Kerr Barlow revived La Rochelle with a try from a blindside snipe off a rolling maul only for compatriot West to again see a goal-kick hit the post.