Last-gasp drop takes Toulon into Top 14 Final
TOP 14 REPORT: A drop goal from Anthony Belleau with the last kick of the game gave Toulon a come from behind 18-15 win over 14-man La Rochelle to reach the French Top 14 Final on Friday.
Toulon will face either defending champions Racing 92 or Clermont, who meet Saturday, in the final in Paris on June 4.
In a tense semifinal played in front of 65 000 people at the Stade Velodrome, the match turned in the 50th minute when La Rochelle, who were leading 15-6 and comfortably placed, were reduced to 14 men.
Centre Pierre Aguillon was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Toulon's James O'Connor which left the Australian star falling head first into the turf.
Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who scored 15 of his team's points in a tense game where neither side managed a try, slotted over three quick penalties to level the semifinal at 15-15.
But a weary La Rochelle, who had finished the regular season on top of the table and were bidding for a first place in the final, had their chances to seal victory.
Zack Holmes, having replaced fellow Australian Brock James, had two shots from the halfway line but his first penalty fell just inches short while the second drifted wide.
Toulon seized their chance and after a series of gruelling forward charges which inched towards the La Rochelle line, 21-year-old Belleau kept his nerve to pop over the winning drop kick after the hooter had sounded.
It was a shattering disappointment for La Rochelle who were only promoted to the top flight three years ago as well as 35-year-old flyhalf James who kicked all of his team's points.
However, the win means that the likes of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Juan Smith, who all leave at the end of the season, have one more match left to play for Toulon.
For La Rochelle:
Pens: James 4
Pens: Halfpenny 5
Red card: Pierre Aguillon (La Rochelle, 50 - foul play, dangerous tackle)
La Rochelle: 15 Kimi Murimurivalu, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Brock James, 9 Arthur Retière, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Levani Botia, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Damien Lagrange, 3 Uini Atonio (captain), 2 Jérémie Maurouard, 1 Vincen Pelo.
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Mike Corbel, 18 Jone Qovu, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Enrico Januarie, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Steeve Barry, 23 Mohamed Boughanmi.
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 James O'Connor, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Anthony Belleau, Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Liam Gill, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Marcel Van der Merwe, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Mamuka Gorgodze, 19 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Jimmy Yobo, 21 Matt Giteau, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Emerick Setiano.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant Referees: Maxime Chalon, Thomas Déjean
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure