RUGBY’S EUROPEAN CUP final is in Dublin. You know what that means, another All-French final.
Yes it’s the Top14′s finest: Clermont, who have already done away with Munster and Leinster, against Toulon and all their well-paid bulky bruisers. At stake, a first Heineken Cup for whoever can come out on the right side of the scoreline.
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Clermont 15 – 16 Toulon
16.08 – A very good afternoon, rugby fans.
It’s been quite a week hasn’t it? Dougie, ROG decide to retire either side of BOD deciding to do the opposite.
All in all, the decisions of a small number of players have almost overshadowed a weekend of European finals in Dublin.
Here we are, though, at the pinnacle of European club rugby with the two best teams in France and Europe determined to steal back the headlines.
16.09 – We’ve just received confirmation that there are no changes to the line-ups.
ASM Clermont Auvergne: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Aurelien Rougerie (c), Wesley Fofana, Napolioni Nalaga; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines, Julien Bonnaire, Gerhard Vosloo, Damien Chouly.
Replacements: Ti’I Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Clement Ric, Julien Pierre, Julien Bardy, Ludovic Radosavljevic, David Skrela, Regan King.
Toulon: Delon Armitage; Rudi Wulf, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Alexis Palisson; Jonny Wilkinson (c), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Andrew Sheridan, Sebastien Bruno, Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha, Nick Kennedy, Danie Rossouw, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Chris Masoe.
Replacements: Jean Charles Orioli, Gethin Jenkins, Davit Kubriashvili, Joe Van Niekerk, Steffon Armitage, Maxime Mermoz, Frederic Michalak, Jocelino Suta.
16.14 – Before I reluctantly leave the cushy environs of the Aviva press hospitality suite ( I recommend the cottage pie ) here’s a quick reminder of how these sides reached the final.
Clermont, of course, ended Munster’s hopes and the career of Ronan O’Gara…
And Saracens were systematically pushed aside in Twickenham.
16.17 – Now, while I’m making the long trek up to the press box have a quick gander at the three key battles which are likely to have a massive say on which part of the south of France the trophy will go.
16.39 – Phew! That lift up to the fifth level is tough going!
We’re in situ and watching the beginning of the pre-match entertainment. We managed to stave off the diddly-aye stuff until I started typing.
As for the conditions, it’s a little chilly, overcast. But crucially there has yet to be a drop of rain. The blue and yellow herd of Clermont are down to my right smashing into tackle bags. And at the other end Toulon are much less dynamic at this point.
Oh, stop everything – here come the Irish dancers!
16.42 – Whoa, I take back my sceptical tone. The dancing is class; heels hammering on hardwood to set a frantic beat to the build-up.
16.55 – There are pockets of Toulon supporters dotted around the ground, but for the most part we’re in Clermont country. The yellow flags fly as ASM head for the tunnel.
The teams are announced and the Toulon crowd are making themselves heard.
Strap yourselves in, rugby fans. This is going to be class.
17.01 – There may be empty seats, as you can see. But those that are here have made up for the absent with an incredible roar to welcome the sides onto the field.
17.03 – KICK OFF: Clermont get us off and running with a kick into the Toulon 22. They clear and Clermont come steaming back before an odd looking reverse pass from Parra forces an aimless kick to touch on the 22.
17.05 – Toulon can only scramble their line-out clear and when Byrne takes the ball into contact just across halfway, Rollaid calls a penalty for holding on against Botha.
PENALTY: Clermont 3 – 0 Toulon
Brilliantly executed from Parra.
17.07 – Oomph! Rougerie is well and truly into the game crashing into JW. He bounced the Englishman off, but the same happened the ball and it’s a scrum red.
17.08 – First sign of Toulon’s backs as Wilko delivers a deep pass to Giteau. The Rougerie backed off and closed the angle well, but the Wallaby will be disappointed not to make more of a four on three overlap.
17.10 – Massive psychological win for ASM as Sheridan is pinged at the scrum and Cotter’s men can set camp up in opposition territory.
17.13 – A decent rally of kick-tennis and the point goes to Brock James as he finds touch just outside Toulon’s 22 from just inside his own. Toulon clear with a Garryowen and Byrne takes it brilliantly.
Superb breakdown work forces a penalty against Rougerie, however. But Jonny Wilkinson, so often so bloody reliable lets his kick drift too close to the touchline and Byrne keeps it in play.
17.17 – Oh la la, beautiful play from Giteau, squeezing a kick out of the tackle on the left wing. Unfortunately the bounce just eluded Palisson in his attempt to gather in space.
17.15 – Back come Toulon! They too managed to keep the clearance kick from finding touch and they roar back into attacking position where they win a penalty right in front of the posts…
PENALTY: Clermont 3 – - 3 Toulon
17.40 – We’re with the TMO, Brock James thinks he’s won the race and touched down.
17.19 – Carl Hayman the latest man penalised for holding on as he carried to within 30 metres of the posts. Toulon are on the wrong side of 4 penalties to 3.
17.21 – Wow. You wait 18 minutes for an opening and suddenly both sides cut loose. Lovely break in Fofana in midfield was followed by a Parra chip into the 22. Wulf had no trouble taking a mark and the bounce of his clearance kick had Byrne’s heart in his mouth as it almost fell to Wulf on the chase.
17.25 – Wow. Excellent break from Sivivatu cuts Toulon asunder. He’s caught and has to off-load to Cudmore and Clermont move it to Byrne who is tackled by two red shirts and can’t get a try-scoring pass away to Bonnaire in support.
17.31 – Toulon are keeping the intensity high and Tillous-Borde attempts to snipe down the blindside and gets smashed by Sivivatu.
It’s an absorbing contest, you sense a pivotal score is just around the corner as both sets of players look to be flagging a little after a huge initial effort.
17.32 – Morgan Parra isn’t tired, he injects some added pace, quick-tapping a penalty and off-loading before Sivivatu is called back as the ball to him was forward.
17.36 – Rougerie breaks into the 22 and Clermont have a brilliant chance for a maximum score. But with Armitage down injured in the left corner, Clermont overload the right side and look to be going nowhere until Zirakashvili bull-dozes his way off the touchline.
The chance is lost, though. Batareud bridging over and forcing a penalty for holding on after the prop made a second burst.
17.39 – Toulon are having to put in a massive effort now in defence as Clermont pile on the pressure. So much ball goes through Sivivatu and that wears the defenders down. They hold firm, though, and as James shifts the ball left again Cudmore knocks it on.
17.59 – Those of you watching at home, what do you think of the game?
One man isn’t all that impressed, but everyone here is beat into it.
17.41 – No try, the Aussie misses out by an inch as the replay shows the ball touch the back white-wash. So close. Toulon are holding on here and they’ve five more minutes to survive before the break.
17.48 – HALF TIME: Clermont 3 – 3 Toulon
Wow. What a contest. All this game is missing are sins bins and tries. Incredible rugby.
Toulon have worked like absolute Trojans to withstand everything Clermont could throw at them.
Can they keep it up, can Clermont? Only the second half will tell.
Jonny finds his range with this successful penalty strike. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
17.51 – Now that I can draw breath, I’m please to report that most of the green seats in the picture I posted earlier were filled during the game. They’re green again now, of course, beer to be drank at half time. But good news that Lansdowne is delivering a final with a really fervent atmosphere.
18.27 – Game. On.
TRY! Clermon 15 – 16 Toulon (Armitage ‘ 64)
Wilkinson’s conversion has Toulon in the lead. Fofana carried into contact on his own 10-metre line. Fernandez-Lobbe and Van Niekerk combined to turn the ball over and the Argentine scooped it out to the English fullback who speeds down the left and goads James as he swan-dives to the corner.
18.01 – Here we go, lads and ladies. The second half is here and Clermont take the restart deep in their own half before booming it clear to Palisson.
18.03 – TRY Clermont! It must be, but Rollaind’s gone for TMO
18.07 – It is.
TRY: Clermon 8 – 3 Toulon (Nalaga’ 42)
It stemmed from a Fofana turnover in midfield. Clermont spun wide to Rougerie who – O’Driscollesque perhaps – brilliantly sucked in two defenders before launching the pass to the speedster on the left wing.
Nalaga still had it all to to, but he turned on the gas and powered over the try-line with a diving finish.
18.08 – Parra missed the conversion and as I typed the description, Toulon rumbled back up the other end and won a penalty to instantly narrow the gap back to two. That kind of thing drives coaches up the walls.
PENALTY: Clermon 8 – 6 Toulon (Wilkinson ‘ 45 )
18.10 – TRY! Clermont 15 – 6 Toulon (James ‘ 47)
The Blue et Jaune are on their feet. Once Clermont find an opening they absolutely pour through with Toulon reeling Parra dinks a lovely ball in behind Wilkinson.
Rougerie’s nudge on the 10 was perhaps a touch illegal, but he collected with JW falling and sent James racing under the posts and away from defenders.
18.17 – Here comes Freddy. Michalak comes in at scrum-half. Toulon are officially chasing this now.
The last roar of approval from Clermont fans was almost greater than the their try-celebration as a penalty went their way with Toulon building phases in the 22.
Clermont are beginning to turn the screw and play cup rugby. Toulon have just under 30 minutes to find nine points. In this game, they’ve been hard to come by.
18.24 – PENALTY: Clermont 15 – 9 Toulon (Wilkinson ‘ 60 )
It’s getting close again. Michalak kicks in behind James and the out-half can only turn into trouble in his own 22. With Giteau on the scene, the penalty is called and Wilko can’t miss.
18.37 – As if Sivivatu hasn’t done enough work, he’s working as first-receiver for Clermont now, changing the point of attack and brilliantly scything through as the Reds set up the bulwark in their 22.
The move breaks down and Toulon clear. A shot of Vern Cotter on the sidelines. He looks a beaten man and he’s not helped by the sight of Morgan Parra limping off with a groin injury.
18.33 – Rougerie departs the scene with his team in need of a score. Regan King is in the game as is Julien Bardy.
Where’s your money now. sportsfans?
18.39 – 73 mins: 10 metres, no more. That’s the story of the last few minutes for Clermont as another knock-on allows RC Toulon draw breath.
Davide Skrela replaces Brock James, a brand new set of half backs. Is Skrela the man for a clutch drop-goal or penalty? Hold on to your hats, we just might find out.
18.42 – Well now, four minutes to go. Toulon concede a penalty on the line-out and Skrela drills play to the 22.
18.44 – Clermont take the set-piece safely. But TiPaulo carries and loses the ball forward. That was not the time.
50, 148 people here watching Toulon hanging on in defence here. They have a scrum and will hope to whittle down the 180 remaining seconds.
18.45 – Armitage booms the kick high and not very far. Clermont line-out….
18.47 – The ball is with a white shirt again. Skrela is in the pocket. But he’s BLOCKED DOWN. Drama.
Clermont still have it, but they’re back on the 10 metre line. ROG must be licking his lips in the studio.
18.48 – The clock is red. It’s do or die. Clermont thought they had an overlap on the right , but it was a prop.
They go right again and force the pass. It’s forward. It’s Toulon’s Cup.
FULL TIME: Clermont 15 – 16 Toulon
18.51 – An absolutely amazing finish. Clermont could so easily be celebrating right now, but in the end the amazing defensive effort of Toulon wins out. We’ll bring you tackle counts later, but they must have passed the 100 mark by 60 minutes.
Matthieu Bastareaud is you Heineken Cup man of the match. it was he who blocked down Skrela’s would-be winner.
18.56 – Terrific scenes on the pitch of Lansdowne Road.
Toulon are bunched together in a mass of red. Clermont players are standing with their hands on their head wondering where it went wrong.
In truth, it all came down to James’ decision to run rather than kick and Fofana’s decision to take the ball into contact rather than pass to the man on his right.
Sometimes these decisions have the desired effect. Today, Toulon’s savagery at the breakdown meant the minor error was punished and Armitage had a clear run to the line.
18.58 – As Toulon get ready to hoist the European Cup, I’ll wrap up the liveblog, folks.
Hope you enjoyed the All-French final. Here’s hoping we can make in an All-Irish affair again next year.