LONDON, ENGLAND – You can call them mercenaries, you can call them soulless, big money free spenders, The New York Yankees of rugby and a million other things but as far as Rugby Club Toulon and its fans are concerned don’t forget their other name. That name is champions, as in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup Champions, and if you combine their back to back Heineken Cup titles, its the three time champions of European rugby, to you!! Toulon, the sleepy military town on the French riviera has now become the largest club in French Rugby and European Rugby, which makes it a hell of a last few years since their divisive owner Mourad Boudjellal (the George Steinbreener, who owned the Yankees, of rugby) took over in 2006.
If Toulon are the Yankees then the nearest American baseball comparison for Toulon’s vanquished rival, ASM Clermont Auvergne, would be the Atlanta Braves. The Braves made 11 playoffs but won only one title. Clermont, under their previous coach Vern Cotter (who ironically arrived in the same year, 2006, that Boudjellal took over Toulon) and current coach Franck Azéma were runners up in the Top 14 Championship from 2007-09 and the European club championship in 2013 and 2015. Their few successes were a 2010 Challenge Cup title and a 2010 Top 14 title.
As for the match:
Clermont start the match with more energy and seemed to be looking to take the game to the defending champions. A knock-on in the early part of the game didn’t slow them down. Clermont’s fly-half Camille Lopez traded kicks with Toulon’s Leigh Halfpenny in the begining as Clermont went out to a 6-3 lead. Clermont’s all-world center, Wesley Fofana, opened the scoring with a opportunely taken try. Wesley Fofana pounced on a bouncing ball after a charge down by scrumhalf Morgan Parra against his opposite number Toulon’s Sébastien Tillous-Borde . Fofana then dodged the tackle of Chris Masoe for the opening try, Lopez’s conversion goes wide. Toulon seemed to wake up and attack with conviction following the try. They weren’t able to penetrate the Clermont tryline but they took advantage of the indiscipline of the Auvergnes as Halfpenny continued to earn his keep to take his first half total to 3 for 4. Clermont looked like they were going into the half with a 11-9 lead. That was until a brillaint move started by Masoe was finished in the corner by the French human-wrecking ball Mathieu Bastareaud, Halfpenny converts to make it 16-11, Toulon at the half.
In the second half, Halfpenny stayed in good form by making a penalty kick however, a brilliant solo effort, chip and chase by Nick Abendanon got everyone out of their seats and had some England fans wondering, if the England staff were watching this performance. the score was now 19-18 to Toulon. The same score that Toulon won by in 2013. However, Drew Mitchell refused to leave it to chance and produced his own magnificent solo effort to make it 24-18 and put the match beyond reach for Clermont. The final whistle blew and it was time to crown the reigning champions, the new champions once again.
Champions Cup Final Highlights: Clermont v Toulon: http://www.epcrugby.com/matchdaytv/?play=media&id=20876
Tries: Fofana, Abendanon
Pens: Lopez 2
Tries: Bastareaud, Mitchell
Pens: Halfpenny 4
Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Damien Chouly (c), 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Mike Delaney, 23 Aurélien Rougerie.
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman (c), 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Rudi Wulf, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Romain Taofifenua.
Before we go here our Expert Panel’s Picks final standings.
So the winner of the Expert Panel Picks contest is Jamie Loyd by one game. The Pick of the Week champion will be shared title between JWB and Nick Hall.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.