Toulon's Triumph Highlights Rugby's Problem Posted almost 11 years ago

Do we need to raise the value of the try again? Do we need to remove one flanker and one wing from the pitch and play with 13 men? I ask these questions because defence, and negative defence at that, is too dominant a force in modern rugby.

Toulon won the Heineken Cup scoring one try in their final four matches, and that was an unopposed run-in courtesy of a dodgy turnover. Toulon are champions of Europe, and we salute Jonny and Fernandez-Lobbe and Mathieu Bastareaud and Matt Giteau for their courage, but I can’t help feeling we have all been robbed.

Clermont Auvergne were far the better team in the final. They scored two tries to one and produced nearly all the line breaks. They were the only team who constantly looked for space and found space. They tried to win the game. It is hard to say the same for Toulon. They tried to stop Clermont winning the game and there is a difference.

People will look at the scoreline and then try to explain why Toulon won. But the answer is really very simple although we rarely admit it in modern sport. They were lucky. They were lucky that a ball reached the deadball line just before Brock James could ground it. They were lucky that Alain Rolland awarded a six point swing, when Clermont were bossing the game, by not giving Clermont an easy kick for offside, a decision that led to a Toulon score. Toulon were lucky Rolland was not more severe on them for slowing the ball down.

But this is the problem rugby faces. I am all for a contest but sometimes defence trumps creativity because it is so hard to score a try and too easy to award a penalty goal. Is that how we want rugby to be? Is that how we want players to think?

When time had run out on the clock at the end of the first half, Toulon had possession on their own ten metre line. No thanks, thought Jonny, and kicked it back to Clermont. Full-back Lee Byrne now had the ball and looked indecisively infield at his colleagues. They signalled him to kick it out.

That tells you much about modern top-level professional rugby. With the match too close to call and approaching half-time, both teams were too afraid of the opposition defence to play. Can you imagine Carwyn James tolerating that sort of attitude from the 71 Lions or Bob Dwyer from the Wallabies?

But that is how too many players and coaches now think. How daft, but fitting, that Bastareaud received the man-of-the-match award. Minutes from the end he could have been done for a high tackle and Clermont could have kicked the winning goal. Instead the officials were lenient and the wrecking ball smashed on, creating little but destroying much.

Brock James made a try that he finished himself and was darned unlucky not to get another. Fofana constantly challenged the defence as did Clermont’s wings. But they weren’t on the winning side you see and winning is everything.

Even when it is very dull and very lucky.

Was there a elephant in the stadium at the Heineken Cup Final and does rugby need to change as a result? Comments below…

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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