Clermont Auvergne 15 Toulon 16
Toulon survived a late Clermont surge to win the Heineken Cup victory at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin today.
Jonny Wilkinson kicked three penalties and landed the decisive conversion to Delon Armitage’s try as Toulon rallied from 15-6 down to clinch their first major trophy in over two decades.
Clermont Auvergne dominated the first half and appeared to take control of the final with quick-fire tries after the interval from Fijian wing Naipolioni Nalaga and the Australian fly-half Brock James.
But Wilkinson had said before the game that European glory was all he had left to play for in the twilight days of his career and Toulon epitomised the desire of their captain.
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe pilfered a crucial turnover, Armitage streaked clear to score and Wilkinson’s conversion edged Toulon into the lead for the first time after 65 minutes.
They would not relinquish it with Wilkinson charging out to block a drop goal attempt from David Skrela with fewer than two minutes remaining of a pulsating contest.
That charge-down sealed Toulon victory and Wilkinson his first title and his first winners’ medal since the 2003 Rugby World Cup final.
Toulon players were in tears at the Aviva Stadium and Wilkinson was joined in celebration by four compatriots with Armitage, his brother Steffon, Andrew Sheridan and Nick Kennedy all European champions.
Gethin Jenkins became the ninth Welshman to win the Heineken Cup after a contest every bit as tight, intense and ferocious as expected.
Clermont took the lead with a third-minute penalty from Parra, drilled through the posts from 45 metres and due reward for a sharp start.
Toulon, though, were gaining a foothold up front with a powerful scrum and strong carries from Sheridan and Chris Masoe in particular, although they were not without enterprise.
Lobbe took a quick lineout from virtually the front row of the stands and Toulon drove upfield, with Sheridan involved again, before earning a penalty.
Wilkinson had his usual pre-match routine disrupted when stadium officials turned down his request for an early morning kicking session but he made no mistake to draw Toulon level.
But Clermont dominated the first half. They were the more dangerous outfit with the ball in hand as danger-man Wesley Fofana made a half break, before being chopped down by Wilkinson, and Sitiveni Sivivatu carved through the Toulon line.
Sivivatu had Jamie Cudmore rampaging on his shoulder and Byrne, playing with the kind of authority that made him a Lion four years ago, carried into the 22.
Toulon scrambled well. They defended for long periods of the first half but their rearguard held firm, although they were fortunate not to be punished by a Clermont counter-attack from a Rudi Wulf knock-on.
James chipped ahead, edged in front of Masoe and dived for the ball but television match official Marshall Kilgore ruled he had grounded it on the dead ball line, so no try.
But 96 seconds after the interval, the rampaging Fijian wing Nalaga broke the deadlock with a try created by his captain Rougerie and finished expertly in the corner.
Rougerie attracted two defenders and slipped the ball to Nalaga, who put his foot down to storm through a tackle from Sebastien Tillous-Borde and beat Armitage to the corner.
Wilkinson kept Toulon’s finger in the dam with a second penalty but it was temporary respite as Clermont struck again immediately. This time Rougerie collected James’ clever chip over the Toulon defence and slipped the pass back to the Australian fly-half, who out-paced Masoe and Matt Giteau to score.
In the space of eight minutes, Clermont appeared to have taken control of the final but Toulon would not be shaken off.
Wilkinson reduced the arrears with a third penalty and Toulon then raced into the lead, for the first time in the game, with Armitage’s try after 65 minutes.
Lobbe plundered the turnover and passed basketball-style out to Armitage, who dived in for the score and then watched Wilkinson stroke over the conversion.
Toulon then defended with their lives and it was fitting – or perhaps inevitable – that Wilkinson was the man to secure the victory by charging down Skrela’s drop-goal attempt.