Toulouse won. Just. But rugby, as an occasion, lost again because of an early red card. This was not the contest the 22-17 score suggests.
Springbok winger Cheslin Koble, the world’s best player and most attacking threat, had to wait 45 minutes for a try-scoring opportunity. Only a magnificent tackle denied him. Toulouse did everything to implode, right up until the final seconds, but realistically this was a contest ended with La Rochelle’s 27th minute red card.
Rugby needs to change its laws that ensure 15 plays 15 for 80 minutes.
Punish the player, send the player off and put him on report for a disciplinary, but don’t punish the team for the indiscretion of the player and don’t end the contest and by extension the occasion. Replace the player in the match.
La Rochelle were brave. They were courageous, but they lost.
And they lost because they had to play 14 against 15 for 53 minutes. You either have to be an exceptional side to win under those circumstances or you have to self-destruct to lose it from that position.
La Rochelle are good but they are not exceptional and Toulouse did everything to self destruct.
The Crusaders of New Zealand would have smashed both these teams by 20-plus points, regardless of where the game was played.
This was not the best of finals. To be blunt, it was bloody awful.
Toulouse played as if they were afraid to lose and La Rochelle, having waited for 123 years to get to the final, played as if they couldn’t believe they were at Twickenham in the final of Europe’s biggest tournament.
South Africa’s four Pro Rugby franchises would fancy their chances to win this title if given the chance to compete next season.
This was not an advertisement for French rugby. It was not one to remember, given some of the great European Club finals, but ultimately France’s most celebrated club could claim victory for the fifth time in their history.
Kolbe was busier on defence than he was on attack.
It was inconceivable how little was created inside of Kolbe to get the ball to him.
Toulouse won this final in spite of and not because of.
La Rochelle were reduced to 14 after 27 minutes and were a back down for the final 53 minutes.
One would think that the calm and rational application would mean it would be a free-for-all for Kolbe on the wing.
But he never saw the ball and even when he went close to the point of contact to get it, it never came his way.
I guess it was just one of those days and for Kolbe and his Toulouse teammates all that will matter is that they were winners at the final whistle.
There wasn’t much to take from this final for the Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber and SA Rugby’s National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. They know the gift they have in Kolbe, they would have wanted more from Toulouse flanker Rynardt Elstadt and the Springbok wingers for La Rochelle Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule had limited opportunities. Both have also confirmed that they are not part of the Springboks alignment camps.
France can boast of having ruled European Club rugby with Toulouse’s triumph in the Champions Cup coming a day after Montpellier’s one point Challenge Cup win against Leicester.
But the boast would be in France and Europe. It certainly wouldn’t be a global one.
Also on www.keo.co.za