England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson kicked a last-minute, long-distance drop goal to give Toulonnais a thrilling 32-29 victory over Stade Francais on Friday and a place in the European Challenge Cup final.
Wilkinson finished the game with a 27-point haul, from seven penalties and two drop goals, but the man who famously kicked a World Cup-winning drop goal in 2003 as the clock ticked down, saved his best again to last.
With the scores level at 29-29, and with Stade down to 14 men after winger Julien Arias had been sin-binned, Wilkinson was fed clean ball just inside the Stade half and unleashed a mighty winning pot at goal which flew straight between the uprights.
It gave big-spending Toulon, who had trailed 19-11 at the interval, a final date with either Brive Correze Limousin or Biarritz Olympique at the Twickenham Stoop on May 18.
“It was tricky with the wind out there at times and had I scored one or two of the other kicks I had, we could have had a one or two score lead,” Wilkinson said.
“I thought if I missed that drop goal I might not go back in the dressing room, as the lads had worked so hard to give me the opportunity,” he added.
Stade Francais made nine changes to the team that beat Perpignan in the French Top 14 last weekend, even switching Wallaby flanker George Smith to inside center.
It was Toulon who got off to a flying start when flanker Steffon Armitage barreled over for his team’s only try after just five minutes.
Stade hit back with a try for fullback Hugo Bonneval in the 13th minute, with Smith playing a key role, setting up the first phase.
Jules Plisson converted as Stade went on to build a 19-11 lead at halftime.
However, Stade fell to pieces in the second half, conceding a series of penalties which were eagerly gobbled up by Wilkinson, who kicked Toulon into a 23-19 lead.
On the hour mark, Stade scored their second try of the tie when Italian skipper Sergio Parisse helped free Australian center Morgan Turinui with a one-handed reverse pass.
Plisson converted for a 26-23 lead which was soon leveled up by another Wilkinson penalty.
Wilkinson kicked another penalty for 29-26, before Plisson replied with a drop goal of his own.
With 10 minutes left, Arias was yellow-carded and Stade were under siege, but Wilkinson then missed three penalty attempts before he hit the target with another memorable late drop goal.