Jonny Wilkinson kicked 21 points to lift Toulon to a 24-16 Heineken Cup semi-final win over Munster on Sunday, keeping alive their hopes of becoming the third side to successfully defend the title.
The French giants, who won their maiden championship by beating Clermont Auvergne last season, will meet Saracens in the final after the English side thrashed Clermont 46-6 on Saturday.
England World-Cup winning flyhalf Wilkinson kicked six penalties and a drop goal in Marseille to keep Toulon on course for a European and domestic double.
Ireland’s Munster, double winners of Europe’s elite club competition, scored the only try through winger Simon Zebo, but paid the price for being on the wrong side of a high first-half penalty count, giving Toulon the chance of joining Leicester and Leinster as the only sides to retain the trophy.
“That was a hell of a game,” Wilkinson told Sky Sports.
The first half was dominated by the boot and a litany of errors, with Wilkinson slotting four penalties and a drop-goal, while Delon Armitage landed a mammoth three-pointer on the stroke of halftime to give Toulon an 18-9 lead at the break.
Munster’s points came from Ian Keatley penalties, but they failed to take advantage of a yellow card to Argentine flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who accidentally kicked Conor Murray in the head, and suffered from being on the wrong side of a 9-3 first-half penalty count.
Toulon nearly made a perfect start to the second half, but Zebo pulled off a try-saving tackle on Steffon Armitage that knocked the big No. 8’s foot into touch.
After a period of possession in the Toulon half, the Ireland wing turned try-scorer, latching on to Murray’s pass on the blind-side and forcing the ball down despite the attention of the covering Toulon defense.
The decision was made by referee Wayne Barnes without the assistance of the television match official, despite questions over the grounding.
Keatley’s conversion narrowed the gap to two points, but he missed the chance to give his side the lead for the first time when a long-range penalty drifted wide.
Munster winger Keith Earls was sin-binned just after the hour mark for bringing down David Smith without the ball, allowing Wilkinson to add his fifth penalty from out wide.
Munster battered away at the Toulon line, despite being down to 14 men for much of the final period, but could not break through, and Wilkinson’s sixth penalty secured a return to the cup showpiece and consigned their opponents to a fourth defeat in their past four semi-finals.
The final will be played in Cardiff, Wales, on May 24.