Having enjoyed the Challenge Cup Final in a nearly full Twickenham Stoop next up was the match between the big boys – The Champions Cup Final, a match between to of the very best in Europe and France. Toulon and Clermont Auvergne, it was clear that EPCRugby had struggled to sell tickets, the crowd was a disappointing 56,622.
An early blow for Clermont saw Brock James strain his thigh in the warm up, leading to his understudy for the day Camille Lopez taking his place. Lopez kicked off, Brian Habana sometimes hero, sometimes villain, was under the ball.
A superb pass by Nick Abendanon released his winger NO 14 – he lost the ball in the tackle however, in what was the first of what felt like endless knock ons! The 1st scrum saw the 1st penalty as Nigel Owens lifted his arm in favour of Toulon, the kick failed to find touch! An early schoolboy error by Toulon.
Clermont won the next penalty as Toulon failed to roll away in the ruck, Lopez made no such mistake with his kick. Clermont went close but knocked on as they approached the line. There had been the hint of a man being taken in the air but play moved on without it being checked.
Clermont won a penalty from the resulting scrum, giving Lopez his 1st kick at goal; and Twickenham had the unusual sound of drums and shouts as he slotted the ball over the posts.
Toulon won the ball from the kick off, but knocked the ball on, they went on the attack as Clermont cleared the ball but Chris Masoe got in the way of the man with the ball Guilhem Guirado.
In another blow to Clermont Jamie Cudmore left the field after 10 minutes to be replaced by Julien Pierre – not a bad replacement but a possible to the original game plan.
Leigh Halfpenny let the ball bounce as Lopez spotted space, by the time he gathered the ball he was pounced on and failed to release the ball. Camille Lopez scored his 2nd penalty as a result.
Clermont knocked on from the kick off releasing a Toulon attack, Drew Mitchell was free and in space on his wing but the ball didn’t make its way to him. They were rewarded with 3 points when Clermont failed to roll away, Leigh Halfpenny converting an easy kick.
Jamie Cudmore returned to the action after 7 minutes away.
The Clermont fans had clearly travelled in numbers and made Twickenham their own throughout the game, they certainly know how to make an atmosphere.
Knock ons seemed to be the order of the day, Jonathan Davies being one culprit as Clermont attacked with some intent.
A charge down by Morgan Parra of his opposite scrum half’s kick, saw the ball head the right way for Clermont and Wesley Fofana needed no invitation, he ran down the wing to score the 1st try of the game. Lopez failed to convert the try. Fofana put in a fairly spectacular swan dive, no criticism for him I expect!
The next Parra intervention saw a knock on awarded and a scrum in dangerous territory, Clermont were penalised and Halfpenny added 3 points to Toulon’s tally. Taking the score to Clermont 11 Toulon 6 with 29 minutes on the clock.
Leigh Halfpenny showed why he’s one of the best in the business when he rushed to collect his own high kick, out jumping Lopez to win the ball. Toulon were awarded another penalty, in spite of a considerable angle Halfpenny cooly slotted the ball over the posts. He missed his next opportunity from a similar position.
Toulon had the last word of the half after a poor kick through by Abendanon saw them surge forward, the ball found its way across the line to Mathieu Basteraud who powered over to score. Halfpenny converted the try to see the tears go in with the score on Clermont 11 Toulon 16.
The 2nd half starts with….. a knock on! But play continued, Toulon attacked and Steffon Armitage burst through a gap, taking Abendanon out as he surged forward. A try looked certain as Toulon proceeded through Matt Giteau but rather than pass he went himself, throwing the ball a mile forward when he realised he wasn’t going to make it, very poor play by the Australian.
Morgan Parra gave advantage back to Toulon as he kicked the ball out of his own half, it went straight out giving the men in red a good platform. Toulon had won the previous Clermont lineout, Clermont won this one, which must have been a great relief!
Matt Giteau made the same mistake as Parra to give an equally good attacking position to Clermont. Clermont won this lineout but failed to capitalise as they were penalised in midfield.
Noa Nakaitaci in a moment of madness dropped the ball forward and over the line, then threw the ball away. Rather than a lineout for Toulon his petulance cost a penalty, it was such a stupid thing to do at a key time.
As we waited for Halfpenny to kick – Swing Low Sweet Chariot rang around the stadium, I’m sure the whole crowd joined in – The kick was immaculate and put Toulon further ahead.
Clermont who were looking in need of inspiration went on the attack but were penalised for going off their feet in the ruck.
Abendanon, who wasn’t having a great day at the office booted the ball up the field, straight out, giving Toulon a lineout on the Clermont 22; luckily for him Armitage was penalised for holding the ball, allowing Clermont to clear their lines.
Clermont won the lineout and rolled up the pitch, only to see the bill spilled as it was passed out. The ball was won by Clermont who passed the ball out, Drew Mitchell who was by no mans the biggest man on the pitch put in a huge tackle!
Clermont then went on a concerted attack with phase after phase being defended by Toulon, the ball was spilled, going into Toulon hands – it was to be a kicking error by Bryan Habana, he mis kicked and it was none other than Nick Abendanon who benefited running in to score what was a great try! Lopez converted the try to make it a 1 point game.
Toulon won the ball from the kick off and it looked like a score for big Ali Williams in the corner, the replay clearly showed that he’d dropped the ball at the final moment. Clermont were awarded a penalty in the resulting scrum.
Yet another knock on saw a scrum in the Toulon half, Toulon being awarded a precious penalty. A perfectly timed pass from the lineout by Sebastien Tillous-Borde saw Drew Mitchell give a display of individual excellence, breaking at least 6 tackles to score an outstanding try. Halfpenny missed the conversion taking the score to Toulon 24 Clermont 18 with just over 8 minutes remaining.
Feddie Michalak made a great beak through the centre, his team mates only just getting to him on time when he was tackled. Again Clermont squandered their possession as they were penalised in the ruck.
Clermont were given a life line when they were awarded a penalty in the scrum after the ball was knocked on in the lineout – but amazingly Rudi Wulf missed touch! They had another chance to attack but a cross field kick taken by Habana saw him taken out in the air, a penalty and the final whistle
And so Toulon became the first team to lift a European trophy 3 years in a row, the other clubs in the competition must wonder if they’ll ever get their hands on the trophy again!