Toulon edge Clermont in European Champions Cup final at Twickenham Stadium
Clermont 18 Toulon 24
Australia wing Drew Mitchell’s brilliant late try ensured Toulon became the first club to win three successive European titles as they beat French rivals Clermont 24-18 in a thrilling Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Clermont were 11-3 up midway through the first half yet turned round with Toulon leading 16-11 after Leigh Halfpenny’s remorseless boot and a converted try by Mathieu Bastareaud saw the champions into the lead.
But Nick Abendanon’s converted try for Clermont just after the hour cut Toulon’s lead to a point only for Mitchell to have the last word.
Toulon and Wales full-back Halfpenny punished Clermont’s indiscipline with four penalties and also kicked a conversion in a 14-point haul.
Clermont had a setback shortly before the match kicked off when Australian fly-half Brock James suffered a thigh injury in the warm-up and was ruled out.
But such is their strength in depth, his place was taken by France international Camille Lopez.
Toulon, though, kicked off with four World Cup-winners in their side in Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith and Ali Williams.
Up front, however, Clermont’s initial dominance at the scrum led to two penalties, both kicked by Lopez.
But a infringement in front of their own posts was duly punished by Halfpenny.
However, it was Clermont who scored the game’s first try, in the 25th minute.
Clermont’s Morgan Parra charged down a kick off the back of a ruck by Sebastien Tillous-Borde and France centre Wesley Fofana gathered the loose ball and ran in unopposed before diving over flamboyantly for a try in the left corner.
Lopez missed the difficult conversion but Clermont were still 11-3 up before two more penalties from the remorseless boot of Halfpenny, cut their lead to just two points.
Halfpenny then, surprisingly, missed a 45-metre effort from wide out on the right.
However, Toulon – having failed to get the most out of a star-studded back division for much of the opening 40 minutes – hit Clermont with a sucker-punch try on the stroke of half-time.
A blindside break from a ruck saw the ball moved quickly left to Bastareaud, with the France centre powering through a gap between prop Davit Zirakashvili and wing Noa Nakaitaci.
Halfpenny, underlining his status as one of the world’s top goalkickers, made light of the tricky conversion and Toulon, who had been eight points down, instead led 16-11 at the break.
They nearly had a second try early in the second half when back-row forward Steffon Armitage bounced off full-back Abendanon.
Armitage found Matt Giteau but the Australia fly-half, with compatriot Mitchell and Halfpenny outside him, saw his back of the hand pass fly into touch as he was hauled down short of the line.
But Nakaitaci then gifted Toulon a penalty when, after making a mess of gathering the ball, he deliberately threw the ball into touch.
Halfpenny’s boot made it 19-11.
It seemed as if Clermont’s handling errors and a series of Armitage turnovers, would deny them the try they needed.
But just after the hour mark, Abendanon chipped the ball over the top of the defence and regathered to score a try under the posts.
Lopez converted and Toulon were now just a point in front at 19-18.
However, Toulon came within inches of another try when New Zealand’s Williams lost control just in the act of going over in the corner.
But, with 11 minutes remaining, Mitchell’s class saw him score a superb try.
Receiving the ball at pace on Clermont’s 10-metre line, he sidestepped several would-be defenders in a slalom run for a brilliant solo score.
Halfpenny though missed the conversion and Clermont still had hope but there was to be no revenge for their 2013 European final defeat by Toulon.