Mon, May 26, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Toulon down Saracens to retain Cup

Reuters, CARDIFF

Toulon flanker Juan Smith, left, crosses the line to score a try against Saracens in the Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Tries by Matt Giteau and Juan Smith, along with a faultless kicking display by Jonny Wilkinson in the penultimate game of his career gave Toulon a 23-6 victory over Saracens on Saturday as the French side become the third team to retain the Heineken Cup.

Former Australia center Giteau scored after 29 minutes as Toulon led 10-3 at halftime and flanker Smith settled the match on the hour.

Wilkinson, 35 yesterday, set up both tries and converted them from the touchline, while also landing two penalties and a brilliant drop-goal.

Toulon, who follow Leicester in 2001-2002 and Leinster in 2011-2012 by winning back-to-back Heineken Cups, can complete a rare double next week when they play Castres in the French Top 14 final and send Wilkinson into retirement on an even bigger high than he felt at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

“It’s a hell of a feeling. I can’t say enough how proud I am to be a part of that and a part of this team,” Wilkinson told Sky Sports after again outplaying current England flyhalf Owen Farrell just as he had in last season’s semi-final and receiving a standing ovation from the 72,000 crowd.

“We’ve had a hell of a time and our season’s got one more game, but this is something I’ll take with me for ever. There is a lot of relief, a lot of excitement, I don’t know — I’ll work it out later on — at the moment I’m trying to take it all in,” added Wilkinson, who missed only one of 30 kicks at goal in the knockout stages of the competition over the past two seasons.

Saracens, appearing in the final for the first time and hoping to become the first English winners since Wasps in 2006-2007, finished with just two Farrell penalties.

Saturday’s clash was the 19th and last Heineken Cup final before European rugby union embraces the new-format Champions Cup next season and Saracens had the best of the early exchanges.

An early Farrell penalty had the London club in front, but they missed two others — one from the England flyhalf and one long-range effort from Marcelo Bosch — and failed to take advantage of Toulon losing flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to the sin bin after 21 minutes.

Neither side was able to get much flow to their play and the tight, but scrappy game was meandering toward halftime when Toulon suddenly cut loose with a classy move for the opening try.

Wilkinson wrong-footed the Saracens defense with a great switch-of-direction pass to Giteau, whose kick into the corner bounced nicely for Drew Mitchell. Giteau had not stopped to admire his own work, though, and his support run was rewarded when he collected from his fellow Australian to touch down.

Wilkinson converted from the touchline then landed a superb right-footed drop-goal to give Toulon a 10-3 halftime lead.

After another penalty apiece there was still only seven points between them at 13-6, but another explosive attack by the holders took them clear.

A rampaging run by mighty France center Mathieu Bastareaud was followed by a clever exchange of passes between Fernandez Lobbe and fellow flanker Smith that opened the way for the South African to score the crucial second try.

Wilkinson, inevitably, landed another dead-eye touchline conversion and added three more points when Farrell was penalized for a late hit on Bryan Habana.

Wilkinson stole the headlines, but the man-of-the-match award again went to former England flanker Steffon Armitage. He won four turnovers in another brilliant all-pitch performance that will no doubt have England coach Stuart Lancaster ruing his country’s rule preventing the selection of players employed by foreign clubs as he heads to New Zealand next week with a squad decimated by injuries and absentees.

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