If Clermont never face Toulon again it will be too soon for most of “Les Jaunards” in London for yesterday’s European Champions Cup final. Their bitter rivals not only beat them for the second time in three years but they made a little history in doing so by becoming the first team in the tournament to win three years in a row.
Scorers: Clermont: Tries: Fofana, Abendanon. Con: Lopez. Pens: Lopez 2. Toulon: Tries: Bastareaud, Mitchell. Cons: Halfpenny. Pens: Halfpenny 4.
There isn’t much to choose between the teams but Toulon were a little better in almost every phase of the game and it told. Clermont’s indiscipline hurt them, as did the individual errors, turnovers, kicking out on the full and the odd missed tackle or three.
The game was finely balanced going into the final quarter with Toulon’s advantage a slender single point and Clermont threatening a comeback after Nick Abendanon’s try. But Wallaby winger Drew Mitchell then showed the threat England will face in the World Cup. He got the ball 30 yards out and weaved his way past three tacklers on his way to the scoring a quite brilliant solo try that was worthy of winning the trophy.
When two French teams contest Europe’s big one, the result is usually memorable for all the wrong reasons but yesterday the sparse Twickenham crowd was entertained with a cracking good game of rugby.
Clermont have always favoured an expansive game and Toulon, against most expectations, followed their rivals’ lead with a show of running rugby that took almost everyone by surprise, not least their opponents.
The two kickers had already traded three penalties, two to Clermont, when Wesley Fofana popped up with the opening try on twenty-four minutes. Scrum-half Morgan Parra may have been offside by the odd metre or two when he charged down a clearance kick by opposite number Sebastian Tillous-Borde. The ricochet fell sweetly for Fofana who had the pace to round Chris Masoe and race away to score.
Happily for the Toulon fans their team appeared to hold the whip hand in the set scrum, where Xavier Chiocci in particular had the hex on Davit Zirakashvili, and that supremacy soon earned Leigh Halfpenny the opportunity to double Toulon’s tally with his second penalty of the evening after half an hour.
The Welshman got the third a few minutes later when Benjamin Kayser incurred the wrath of referee Nigel Owens, although Clermont’s combative hooker was grateful another Halfpenny kick from exactly the same spot sailed wide after he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar once again. Clermont’s indiscipline was costing them and Toulon struck an important psychological blow on the stroke of half time with a try from giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud. A loose chip kick by Abendanon was run back with interest by Masoe and, a few phases later, Bastareaud scored in the left hand corner after patient approach work opened a gap in the Clermont defence big enough even for his burly frame. Halfpenny’s conversion gave Toulon a 16-11 lead at the break.
Having just had the last word of the first half, Toulon should have had the first of the second when Matt Giteau made a diagonal run that took him almost to the Clermont line and, finally tackled, he flipped the ball out the back of his hand in a Hail Mary pass that flew into touch when he should have scored.
Events were conspiring against Clermont victory when winger Noa Nakaitaki gave them a helping hand. First, the big Fijian spilled a high ball into touch giving Toulon an attacking lineout, then threw the ball away to concede a penalty which Halfpenny duly converted to put Toulon two scores ahead with half an hour to play.
But Clermont mounted a long series of brutal, direct attacks inside the Toulon 22. The ball squirted out of one ruck and Abendanon ran Bryan Habana’s terrible clearance kick back before collecting his own chip to score under the posts with the Toulon defence at sixes and sevens.
The kick by Lopez made it a one point game, until Mitchell had the final, thrilling, say.
Clermont: Abendanon; Nakaitici, Davies, Fofana, Nalanga (Rougerie 54); Lopez, Parra (Radoslavjevic 56); Debaty (Domingo 48), Kayser (Ulugia 63), Zirakashvili (Ric 66), Cudmore (Pierre 57), Vahaamahina, Bonnaire, Chouly (Capt), Lee (Bardy 54).
Toulon: Halfpenny; Mitchell, Bastareaud, Hernandez (Wulf 65), Habana; Giteau, Tillous-Borde; Chiocci (Menini 48), Guirado (Orioli 63), Hayman (Capt) (Chilachava 63), Botha (Taofifenua 47), Williams, Smith, Armitage, Masoe..
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU). Attendance: 56,662