Two French teams locked horns in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final held, ironically, at Twickenham in England.
Toulon were aiming to be the first team to win the trophy for the third year in a row.
Clermont had never won the Championship and were known as the chokers. They wanted it so badly that they had been resting their good players for the semi and final—and lost three club games on the trot.
Toulon 24 – Clermont 18
Clermont also lost flyhalf Brock James in the warm-up but his replacement, France no. 10 Camille Lopez, was no slouch. The lineups were like a Who’s Who of the game and they played a brand of rugby that was suitable to the occasion.
After positive hard play from both sides the score was 6-3 to Clermont at 17 minutes and it was obvious that they didn’t come to Twickenham to kick the ball down the throat of the other team.
Clermont 9 Morgan Parra charged down a box kick of his opposite number Sébastien Tillous-Borde, who had no blockers, and star inside centre Wesley Fofana reached up to take the ball and ran with his winger’s pace to score in the corner. The conversion missed and Clermont led 11-3 at 25 minutes.
Wesley Fofana – scored first try of the match
Straight after the restart Toulon had a strong period of play when Clermont could not clear the ball from their half, yet when Toulon slotted two penalties they were able to get the ball back easily into Clermont real estate and retrieve it there as well.
Veteran Ali William was prominent for Toulon in the pack and so was England outcast Steffon Armitage.
At 33 minutes Clermont was still in the lead 11-9 but when 15 Nick Abendanon kicked a silly chip to Toulon just before the break they swarmed down one side and when they switched to the other Matthieu Bastareaud scored and fullback Leigh Halfpenny converted.
Unlike in some of the Quarter- and Semi-Finals, most of the players were performing as their scrapbooks suggested they could.
Half-time score: Toulon lead 16-11.
No team had come from behind in to win the European Championship in the last decade. Could Clermont do it?
Bastareaud – scored just on half time
Within two minutes 10 Matt Giteau risked a miracle pass to winger Drew Mitchell near the Clermont goal line; it didn’t pay off, but Toulon was looking ominous again.
Clermont had good areas to work in but they were easily repulsed and after one clearing kick a bonehead play by 11 Noa Nakaitaki allowed Halfpenny to chalk up his fourth penalty goal.
The score was 19-11 at 57 minutes and Toulon had a stranglehold on the game.
Five minutes later Clermont had their big chance near the Toulon goal line but 12 JM Hernandez stripped the ball and winger Bryan Habana cleared it. However Abendanon caught it 30 meters out and ran to defenders, chipped 3 Carl Hayman, to an empty pocket, regathered and scored under the posts. Great try !!
Carlos Spencer would have been proud of that one and when Lopez converted it was game on again, Toulon were ahead 19-18 in the 64th minute.
Clermont fluffed yet another restart kick and Toulon charged; they looked to score but Williams dropped the ball, said the TMO, near the corner post.
Then Mitchell scored one of the best individual tries he ever scored. The conversion missed !! Toulon led 24-18 with nine minutes left but a converted try would win it for Clermont.
The last minutes were dramatic. Lopez launched a penalty kick for touch from 45 metres out, for his team to start a lineout drive to score a converted try they needed to win—but he tried to gain too much ground the ball and the ball was cleared.
Abendanon raided again but when Clermont were on the Toloun 22 Lopez chipped the ball wide. It was a silly kick and was never on. It was fielded by Habana and—game over.
Final score: Toulon 24 – Clermont 18
Drew Mitchell – scoring game changer
The Wrap Up
The absence of Brock James for Clermont was telling as Camille Lopez did not manage the game well at flyhalf and in a big game the 10 has to command. By contrast Giteau, although he has played mostly inside centre for Toulon, orchestrated well as the pivot.
Clermont’s restart reception was poor and they contributed to Toulon scores.
In hindsight the decision not to close the game up in the last seconds before the break was costly for Clermont and they paid the price of the Bastareaud try after the siren.
The Toulon players were too good in most areas especially in the region at the top of their heads, and their defence kept everything out except a couple of brilliancies.
Ali Williams – man of the match – old dog for a long road
The Game Changer
Perhaps the key moment was went Brock James injured his thigh in the warm up because he would have made a difference in the first half when Clermont was listless.
But Drew Mitchell broke the game open for Toulon after a lineout 40 metres out and hs team leading by only 19-18.
There didn’t seem to be a lot on, but defenders were looking at Bastareaud when Mitchell was passed the ball and with shimmies and steps he beat six defenders to score. Campo would have nodded his head in approval.
The G&GR MOTM
Abendanon had a couple of brilliant moments for Clermont and a notable guilty one also. Giteau controlled the game well as mentioned, and the gob-stopping try that Mitchell scored was not his only fine contribution. Armitage was a pest on the poach and also the run.
But the G&GR man-of-the-match award goes to old stager Ali Williams who for a change didn’t benefit from his sly moments, but rather from his deft hands that kept his team flowing forward, and for some bruising moments unfitting for a rugby pensioner.
I should have included “Wallaby Watch” in there—if the Wallaby selectors don’t pick Giteau and Mitchell for the World Cup squad, they are barking mad.
Aussie selectors would be barking mad not to pick these two
Score & Scorers
Toulon – 24
Tries: M.Bastareaud (40), D.Mitchell (69)
Conversion: L,Halfpenny (40)
Penalties: L.Halfpenny (16, 28, 32, 51)
Clermont – 18
Tries: W.Fofana (24), N.Abendanon (62)
Conversion: C.Lopez (62)
Penalties: C.Lopez (7, 12)
Cards & Citings
Clermont: 1. V. Debaty, 2. B. Kayser, 3. D. Zirakashvili, 4. J.Cudmore, 5. S.Vahaamahina, 6. J. Bonnaire, 7. D. Chouly (c), 8. F. Lee, 9. Morgan Parra, 10. C. Lopez, 11. N. Nalaga, 12. W. Fofana, 13. J. Davies, 14. N. Nakaitaci,15. N. Abendanon.
Replacements: 16. J. Ulugia, 17. T. Domingo, 18. C. Ric, 19. J. Pierre, 20. J. Bardy, 21. L. Radoslavjevic, 22. M. Delany, 23 A. Rougerie.
Toulon: 1. X. Chiocci, 2. G. Guirado, 3. C. Hayman (c), 4. B. Botha, 5. A.Williams, 6. J. Smith, 7.S. Armitage, 8. C. Masoe, 9. S.Tillous-Borde, 10. M. Giteau, 11. B. Habana, 12. JM Hernandez, 13. M. Bastareaud, 14. D. Mitchell, 15. L. Halfpenny.
Replacements: 16. JC Orioli, 17. A. Menini, 18. L. Chilachava, 19. J Fernandez Lobbe, 20. V. Bruni, 21. R. Wulf, 22. F. Michalak, 23. R.Taofifenua.
Date: Saturday, 2 May
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 17:00 local
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal)
Assistant Referees: W. Barnes (Eng), G. Clancy (Ire)
TMO: G. Hughes (Eng)