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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Ntamack on the prowl in Europe
Emile Ntamack leaves a Newport player sprawling in a European game last season
Ntamack is still a threat out wide for Toulouse
Pool 5 | Toulouse v London Irish | Saturday 12 October | Kick-off 1400BST |

Last year was a disappointing one for inaugural Heineken Cup winners Toulouse as the French giants failed to win a trophy.

For one of the biggest names in European rugby to end the season without any silverware was a blow.

But it paled into insignificance beside the disaster that struck the town in September 2001.

An explosion at the AZF chemical factory killed 30 people and injured more than 2,000 others.

In addition to the horrific number of deaths the blast damaged more than 10,000 homes and left the rugby club without a ground after their stadium was badly damaged.

Success one year later would be good for the town
France star
Emile Ntamack

The close-knit town in south west France was stunned and many Toulouse players had family and friends who were affected.

Veteran winger Emile Ntamack says that although the club's on-field problems paled in comparison with the tragedy affecting the community, the players found it hard to keep their focus.

"It was tough at the time, but I'm not sure that the factory was an excuse for us not playing well and failing to win anything," Ntamack told BBC Sport Online.

"However, it was not easy to play - it was a bad moment for the players and their families, so success one year later would be good for the town."

Emile Ntamack takes on the Australian defence while playing for France
Ntamack starred for France in the 1990s

After last year's winless season "Stade", as they are known throughout France, are desperate to get back to winning ways, but success may once again elude them this season.

Thanks to the loss of Franck Tournaire to Leicester, and Italian prop Andrea Lo Cicero's reluctance to return to the club, they have problems in the front row.

And although they have some exciting young backs like Clement Poitrenaud and Frederic Michalak, they may lack the all-round strength to launch a serious campaign to regain the title they won in 1996.

"We have a lot of good players at Toulouse and we have the potential but I think we need time," said the 32-year-old Ntamack.

"Last season was a bad year for us because we won nothing. This year we have no choice - we need a trophy.

"It would be great to be in a good position with the European Cup but we know that will be tough because we have a lot of good teams in our group - we know that the level is very high."

Emile Ntamack in action for Toulouse
Ntamack hopes his experience will help Toulouse

The sight of the panther-like Ntamack in full flow for France was one of the high points of world rugby in the 1990s, but he is now at the age where time is taking its toll.

"I don't know how much longer I will keep on playing for. I listen to my body," said the French veteran.

"I play differently than I did in the past. In the team you need speed and young players, but you also need experience.

"You need a leader to make sure you play in the right way.

"I don't know that I am a father figure - I'm not that old - but I try to bring my experience and how I see the game."

Ntamack may no longer be quite the fluid broken-field runner he was in his prime.

But his rugby know-how should prove invaluable as Toulouse look to once again scale the heights of European rugby.

Heineken Cup

Parker Pen Cup


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28 Oct 01 | Heineken Cup
03 May 01 | Rugby Union
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