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Toulon strikes gold in Cardiff

Sat, 24 May 2014 18:19
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Juan still pure Bok
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Toulon wrote their own chapter in European history, becoming only the third team to win back-to-back Euro Cup titles.

Not only did Toulon claim a second successive title, but their dream of a European and French double remains alive.

After a bruising first half, holding a slender 10-3 lead (it became 10-6 after 46 minutes), they shut Saracens out to win 23-6 in the Final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

That saw them join  Leicester Tigers (2001 and 2002) and Leinster (2011 and 2012) as the only teams to have won back-to-back titles in Europe's showcase event.

Although Toulon still has a Top 14 Final to contest next week, it also brought a fitting end another chapter in their career of superstar Jonny Wilkinson, who captained Toulon.

The match even included a classic Wilkinson drop-goal, while he showed his class with some nifty touches while the game was still close on the scoreboard.

The England great, Wilkinson, kicked 13 points in his final match in the United Kingdom before retirement - with Australia's Matt Giteau and South Africa's Juan Smith scoring the French club's two tries.

Saracens' points came courtesy of two penalties from Owen Farrell - the current England flyhalf.

"It's a hell of a feeling," said Wilkinson, for whom this win marked an early birthday present - he turns 35 on Sunday.

"I am proud to be part of this team and be part of this. The season has one more week to go, I will take this with me forever."

Saracens also have a shot at domestic glory as next Saturday sees them playing Northampton in the English Premiership Final.

Under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium, Toulon once more looked to get the better of Saracens following their 24-12 semi-final win over the London club last season - a match where Wilkinson kicked all his side's points.

For Saracens captain Steve Borthwick, like Wilkinson, this was set to be his penultimate match before retirement.

The London club appearing in their first European Final of any kind, took a second-minute lead when Toulon's All Blacks prop Carl Hayman was penalised for popping up at a scrum.

Farrell kicked the penalty and Saracens led 3-0.

Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch, Saracens' long-range kick specialist, and Farrell both saw 45 metre penalty efforts fall short.

But with Toulon down to 14 men after Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe was sent to the sin-bin for tackling airborne Saracens-lock Alistair Hargreaves, they revitalised a stuttering match with their first try.

In the build-up to this match Saracens coach Mark McCall had highlighted Giteau as a dangerman and he was proved right in the 29th minute.

Wilkinson switched play with an inside pass to Giteau, whose clever chip kick into space saw Drew Mitchell beat Saracens fullback Alex Goode to the high bouncing ball.

Former Wallaby wing Mitchell then passed out of the tackle to the supporting Giteau, who'd followed up his own kick, and the centre raced in for a try.

Wilkinson made light of a difficult conversion from out near the touchline to give Toulon a 7-3 lead.

And that became 10-3 when, two minutes before half-time, a huge drive by the powerful Toulon pack from a line-out saw Wilkinson land a drop-goal off his weaker, right foot - just as he'd done to seal England's 2003 World Cup Final win over Australia in Sydney.

Seven points down at the break, Saracens needed to score first in the second half and did so when Farrell landed a routine penalty after Toulon collapsed a scrum.

However, Wilkinson then kicked a penalty after No.8 Steffon Armitage had got over the ball at a tackle.

Toulon then sealed victory with a match-clinching try on the hour.

France centre Mathieu Bastareaud started the move with an outside break before passing to Smith, who took the ball brilliantly one-handed behind him.

The Springbok, Smith, exchanged passes with Lobbe in a neat one-two before crossing for a fine try.

Wilkinson duly converted to make it 20-6 and that soon became 23-6 when, after Farrell's late hit on Springbok wing Bryan Habana, he landed a 40-metre penalty.

There was no way back for Saracens and a crowd of nearly 68,000 cheered Wilkinson to the echo when Toulon coach Bernard Laporte, the former France boss, replaced him late on with Maxime Mermoz.

Man of the match: Schalk Brits was much of what was Saracen's energy on defence, while Jacques Burger produced a performance similar to what earned him man of the match in the semifinal, but he had tougher opposition this time. Craig Burden produced a lot of energy in the 40 minutes he was on the field. Matt Giteau showed some sublime touches, especially with his involvement in the opening try. Jonny Wilkinson showed his class - not only for his kicking prowess, but also the way he switched play in the lead-up to the opening try of the match. Steffon Armitage played like an openside flank and managed four crucial turnovers. However, our award goes to Toulon's Springbok flank Juan Smith, who showed he is still good enough to play for South Africa - physically he is on a different level, both on defence and with ball in hand.

Moment of the match: There is no doubt about this one. It is Toulon flank Juan Smith's try on the hour mark - it ended the game as a contest.

Villain of the match: There is no doubt that Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe was silly and deserved this for playing Alistair Hargreaves in the air.

The scorers:

For Toulon:
Tries:
Giteau, Smith
Cons: Wilkinson 2
Pens: Wilkinson 2
DG: Wilkinson

For Saracens:
Pens:
Farrell 2

Yellow card: Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe  (Toulon, 22 - foul play, playing a man in the air)

 Teams:
 
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (captain), 9 Sebastien Tillous Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini , 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ali Williams, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Maxime Mermoz , 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Jocelino Suta.
 
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.
 
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

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