JONNY Wilkinson kicked 21 points to lift Toulon to a 24-16 Heineken Cup semi-final win over Munster yesterday, keeping alive their hopes of becoming the third side to successfully defend the title.
Scorers: Toulon: Pens: Wilkinson 6, D Armitage. Drop goals: Wilkinson. Munster: Tries: Zebo. Cons: Keatley. Pens: Keatley 3.
The French giants, who won their maiden championship with victory over Clermont Auvergne last season, will meet Saracens in the final after the English side thrashed Clermont 46-6 on Saturday.
Wilkinson, who was in doubt for the match with a hamstring injury, kicked six penalties and a drop goal in Marseille to keep Toulon on course for a European and domestic double.
Munster, twice winners of Europe’s elite club competition, scored the only try through winger Simon Zebo, but paid the price for being on the wrong side of a high first-half penalty count, giving Toulon the chance of joining Leicester and Leinster as the only sides to retain the trophy.
“That was a hell of a game,” said Wilkinson. “Five points was just not enough, at the end there eight was almost not enough, it’s just relentless.”
The first half was dominated by the boot and a litany of errors, with Wilkinson slotting four penalties and a drop goal, while Delon Armitage landed a mammoth three-pointer on the stroke of halftime to give Toulon an 18-9 lead at the break. Munster’s points came from Ian Keatley penalties, but they failed to take advantage of a yellow card to Argentine flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who accidentally kicked Conor Murray in the head, and suffered from being on the wrong side of a 9-3 first half penalty count.
Toulon nearly made the perfect start to the second half but Zebo pulled off a try-saving tackle on Steffon Armitage that knocked the big No 8’s foot into touch.
After a period of possession in the Toulon half the Ireland wing turned try-scorer, latching on to Murray’s pass on the blind-side and forcing the ball down despite the attention of the covering Toulon defence.
The decision was made by referee Wayne Barnes without the assistance of the television match official despite questions over the grounding.
Keatley’s conversion narrowed the gap to two points, but he missed the chance to give his side the lead for the first time when a long-range penalty drifted wide. Munster winger Keith Earls was sin-binned just after the hour mark for bringing down David Smith without the ball, allowing Wilkinson to add his fifth penalty from out wide.
Munster battered away at the Toulon line, despite being down to 14 men for much of the final period, but could not break through, and Wilkinson’s sixth penalty secured a return to the cup showpiece and consigned their opponents to a fourth defeat in their last four semi-final appearances.
“It’s going to have to come from within us, we’ve been here before, we had chances last year to win and didn’t take them and it’s the same again this year,” Zebo said.
“We can’t keep doing this to ourselves every year, we want to be competing for silverware and semi-finals aren’t good enough. We need to have a long hard look at ourselves and make sure that we’re in with a fighting chance next year.”.
Toulon: D Armitage, D Mitchell, Bastareaud, Giteau, Habana, Wilkinson, Tillous-Borde, Chiocci, Burden, Hayman, Rossouw, Suta, J Smith, Fernandez Lobbe, S Armitage. Subs: D Smith for Habana (48), Claassens for Tillous-Borde (62), Menini for Chiocci (54), Orioli for Burden (58), Castrogiovanni for Hayman (75), Mikautadze for Rossouw (62). Not used: Bruni, Mermoz. Sin bin: Fernandez Lobbe (28).
Munster: Jones, Earls, Laulala, Downey, Zebo, Keatley, Murray, Kilcoyne, Varley, Botha, Foley, O’Connell, Stander, Dougall, Coughlan. Subs: D Hurley for Jones (72), Hanrahan for Downey (64), Cronin for Kilcoyne (64), Casey for Varley (75), D O’Callaghan for Foley (64), O’Donnell for Dougall (55). Not used: J Ryan, Williams. Sin bin: Earls (63).