Magnificent Toulon seal European treble

Martyn Thomas 22:36 02/05/2015
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  • Flying: Toulon trio Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha & Ali Williams all retire on a high.

    Toulon weathered an early Clermont storm as they came from behind to seal a third-straight European Cup success and write a new chapter in their storied recent history.

    In a repeat of the 2013 Heineken Cup final in Dublin, Clermont came up just short against a formidable Toulon side who sent Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha and man of the match Ali Williams into retirement with another winner’s medal.

    Mathieu Bastareaud and Drew Mitchell both scored tries for the victors, while Leigh Halfpenny, who finished with 14 points with the boot, kept his side in the game in the first half-an-hour.

    Wesley Fofana had got the game’s first try, while Nick Abendanon produced a fine solo effort to add to eight points from Camille Lopez.

    Abendanon may well regret a poor clearance late in the opening period though, that ultimately allowed Bastareaud to score and hand Toulon a half-time lead.

    Clermont suffered a late set-back as fly-half Brock James pulled up in the warm-up, with French international playmaker Lopez drafted in off the bench.

    It had a positive impact, initially, as Franck Azema’s men tore into their opponents, Naipolioni Nalaga’s first-minute sprint down the left touchline setting the mood for the opening 25 minutes.

    Toulon were struggling to get out of their own half, and it was no surprise when their opponents notched the first try of the game as Sebastien Tillous-Borde’s charged down kick fell kindly for Fofana.

    The France centre needed little invitation to gobble up the ball and sprint over the line.

    Lopez missed the conversion, but thanks to his earlier two penalties Clermont now enjoyed a deserved an 11-3 advantage.

    However, there had been warning signs for the men in white, and Halfpenny would soon haul his side within two points with his second and third penalties.

    Halfpenny would inexplicably pass up the opportunity to give Toulon the lead a few minutes later, but the momentum had swung. Although, it was a mistake from Abendanon would allow them to sneak in front.

    The former Bath full-back failed to gather his kick ahead, and then allowed Chris Masoe to bounce of his attempted tackle. Masoe powered into space to set up the move that ended with Bastareaud crashing over in the left corner.

    Halfpenny made no mistake with his conversion and suddenly Toulon were heading into the break with a five-point lead.

    It almost got a whole lot better for the defending European champions early in the second half as Stefforn Armitage’s hard running set in motion a passage of play that almost saw Matt Giteau over the whitewash.

    The confidence that had coursed through Clermont in the opening exchanges had evaporated, as evidenced when Noa Nikaitaci fumbled a routine kick into touch.

    Shortly afterwards, Halfpenny would extend Toulon’s lead with another penalty, silencing a rendition of ‘Swing Low’ in the process, but to their credit Clermont refused to buckle.

    Abendanon may have cost his side a try, but with a little over 18 minutes left he hauled his back into the contest with a moment of magic.

    Fielding Bryan Habana’s clearance, the England hopeful took advantage of some confusion in the Toulon ranks to chip ahead, gather and score. Lopez added the routine conversion and Clermont were right back in it.

    In keeping with a topsy-turvy contest, their momentum did not last long and within two minutes Ali Williams thought he had scored, only for replays to confirm he dropped the ball.

    Toulon would not have to wait long for another try, though, as Mitchell cut through some static Clermont defending following an exquisitely timed pass from Sebastien Tillous-Borde.

    Halfpenny, having received treatment for the second time, missed the extras, setting up a tense final 10 minutes with Toulon less than a converted try in front.

    Clermont’s belief was renewed, but despite another break from Abendanon, were unable to deny their rivals a place in the history books.