A final lost, and a final won

3 with Frank Parkinson 3

The big news for rugby in the P-O was the defeat of USAP (l’Union Sportive Arlequins Perpignanais) in the final of the Top 14 at Paris on Saturday May 29th.

After a season with USAP finishing on top at the end of all the normal home-and-away matches, they were straight into the semi-finals of the knock-out phase, with the second placed team Toulon having the other direct pass to the semi-finals. This year, the teams finishing third to sixth played to decide the other two semi-finalists, who emerged from the barrages as Toulouse and the newly-promoted Paris club, Racing Metro 92.

USAP’s semi-final versus Toulouse (who a week later became European Club Champions – the Heineken Cup winners – for a record fourth time) showed all the best qualities of USAP – powerful scrum, excellent defence and a self-belief and refusal to give in that can win matches – as well as a near-perfect kicking display from the fullback Jérome Porical. Incidentally, Porical is the third generation to play for USAP – both his father and grandfather played in the same position, with his grandfather, like Jérome last year, winning the Bouclier de Brennus.

In the other semi-final, Clermont beat Racing Metro after extra time, and so the scene was set for a re-run of the 2009 final.

The expectation was immense all over the department, and huge crowds gathered outside the Castillet on Saturday evening to watch on a big screen, while every village seemed to have some arrangement made to watch the match communally.

Unfortunately, in the final at Stade de France on Saturday night, USAP then turned in a “non-game”. The players themselves admit that Clermont deserved to win a match in which they were more aggressive, more incisive and more adventurous.

But Clermont must have had moments of doubt! Eleven times finalists between 1936 and 2010, this was the fourth year in succession that they reached the final, yet in all those attempts they had never won a title. In 2009 they played USAP and lost after leading with an early try. This year Clermont led at half-time with exactly the same score as 2009, also with an early try scored by the same player as last year! Little wonder that people talked of the jinx on Clermont, and that they have been known to resort to a psychologist to prepare mentally.

After 80 minutes, however, the best team on the day gained a deserved victory, and no-one on the USAP side would deny that. Disappointing, but still USAP have had a great season by any standards. They were the only side to win all their home matches in the 2009/2010 season, they are runners-up in the Top 14, and they have players in the French national and A sides for the summer tournaments.

And all this from a side with only an average budget, and one that, rather than buying in expensive international players from around the world, uses local talent (Mas, Marty, Porical, Shuster, Guirado, Perez, etc, etc etc) to the maximum advantage.

And what about the winners!

On Saturday also, and in Paris, the USAP ladies team (previously Toulouges) met Montpellier in the final of the French ladies championship, the Top 10. This also was a re-run of the 2009 final, except that in 2009 Montpellier won. This year USAP ladies team beat Montpellier 26-5 to take the championship.

Congratulations to all.

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