Emile Ntamack, captain of the Toulouse team who won the first European Cup back in 1996 in Cardiff, returned to the scene of his extra-time triumph over the Welsh club on Wednesday and immediately the memories came flooding back of that 21-18 win.
“It was a memorable moment,” said the 49-year-old former France winger, who was in the Welsh capital for the launch of the 2019/20 EPCR season for British and Irish clubs.
“It’s true that time passes very quickly, but everything still remains engraved [in my memory]. I can recall the Arms Park stadium, which was a real temple [of rugby], and a formidable Cardiff team.”
Ntamack, who scored 21 tries in 49 European Cup games for Toulouse, remembers that the French club didn’t lose a game in that inaugural tournament, winning four games out of four.
“That European Cup was a real adventure for us,” he added. “It was important to register Toulouse’s name beyond France. We had been double champions of France and wanted something else. Then the European Cup arrived.”
Packed full of French internationals, including the likes of prop Christian Califano and centre Thomas Castaignède, Toulouse certainly made their presence felt over the whole continent, going on to win the trophy a record four times.
“We wanted to see if we were capable of rising to the challenge of raising the roof in Europe,” said Ntamack. “Toulouse were proud to show they could dominate the whole of Europe.”
Now it falls to Ntamack’s son, 20-year-old Romain, to help Toulouse to a record-breaking fifth European crown to follow their successes in 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2010.
“Last year Toulouse rediscovered the European Cup and got their taste back for it,” remarked Emile after their semi-final appearance. “Buoyed by their French title, Toulouse are going to be ambitious [this season].
“But clubs will be wary of them. Trips to Gloucester, Montpellier and Connacht [in Pool 5] won’t be easy. We know very well that there is very little to choose between the teams in this competition. There are often surprises.
“But Toulouse harbour many ambitions this season and I dream that they will be present in the final in Marseille. That would be extraordinary.”