The loss of the Grand Slam title to France earlier in the year will have been more than compensated for in English eyes with the triumph of English sides in the premier northern hemisphere club finals
The loss of the Grand Slam title to France earlier in the year will have been more than compensated for in English eyes with the triumph of English sides, London Waps and NEC Harlequins in the premier northern hemisphere club finals at the weekend.
Both games had sensational finishes with Harlequins committing grand larceny while Wasps will get away with plain theft after beating Toulouse 27-20 in the showpiece Heineken Cup final at Twickenham on Sunday.
This was a game that Toulouse could and probably might have won (had it gone to extra-time) while the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final was a game that Montferrand had won until they pressed the self-destruct button right at the death. In fairness, Montferrand had their collective finger hovering over that button all afternoon, giving away penalties with gay abandon to keep Quins in the hunt right up to the end.
On Sunday it was Welshman Robert Howley who saved Wasps from having to endure extra time when his pursuit of what looked a hopeless cause ended in a try that brought the Cup to Twyford Avenue. Afterwards he admitted as much when he said.
“I just wanted to get into their territory and get the
position for us to try a drop goal but we had a bit of luck with the try. We were up against a
very good side
and I’m just thankful that we’ve won it.”
His side were under the cosh for most of a game that all the pundits predicted they’d win easily. They deserve huge praise for the way they were able to absorb pressure, in particular during the period when their captain Dallaglio was in the bin and Toulouse came looking for a try.
If Howley had reason to be thankful for his side’s durability and his own ingenuity, then all at Harlequins have reason to be thankful to Montferrand’s indiscipline throughout the Challenge Cup final on Saturday and even more so to the crass stupidity and thuggish mindset of their centre Raphael Chanal.
With what had been a hugely uninspiring game drawing to a close and the French leading 26-20, and just six minutes after he’d returned to the play – Chanel committed his second and most telling piece of malevolence.
Montferrand had managed to turnover ball on the half-way. Interestingly, it was ball won in the same manner that Donncha O’Callaghan found himself yellow-carded in the Heineken semi final against Wasps, but this time around referee Nigel Whitehouse found no difficulty with the action. Doctors differ.. and all that.
However, having turned over the ball Montferrand rumbled upfield and into the Quins 22 and set about running down the clock. Then in steps Chanel again, swinging punches directly under the nose of the touch-judge. Whitehouse, quite rightly had no hesitation in brandishing the second yellow (red) card and from the resultant penalty Quins found the field position to set up the winning try.
Up to then, the English club never remotely looked likely to breach the French defence but with the gap provided by Chanel’s absence they punched through for the winning score.
Mind you, there was more than a suspicion of a forward pass from George Harder to Ugo Moyne but credit Keogh for the way he finished and his composure in rounding Aurelien Rougerie to make the conversion for his colleague Andy Dunne so straightforward.