TOULON CLAIMED THE last-ever Heineken Cup with a clinical 23-6 victory over Saracens at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
Led by sublime back rows Steffon Armitage and Juan Smith, who was retired from rugby last year, Bernard Laporte’s men scored two excellent tries and won a higher percentage of the collisions than their English rivals.
There was a distinctly South African flavour to the biggest physical confrontations in this encounter, with Craig Burden, Bakkies Botha and Smith demonstrating a range of explosive and wrestling in-contact skills. That said, Armitage was once again a constant menace at the breakdown.
It was the ability of Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau to identify space that was largely responsible for the two all-important tries, however, with the latter once again proving his importance as a playmaker for Toulon.
A scrum penalty allowed Owen Farrell to open the scoring for Saracens in the third minute, before the game settled into a dour opening quarter in which stoppages for TMO enquiries were more common than gainline advances.
Both sides looked to kick out from inside their own halves, with the attacks operating narrowly when they did enjoy territory. Toulon’s Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe was sin-binned in the 22nd minute for a challenge on Alistair Hargreaves in the air, although Saracens failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
It came down to a moment of imagination from the wonderful Giteau to spark this final into life.
As Toulon worked from right to left just inside the Saracens half, the Australian spotted space deep behind the English side’s half, calling for a long pass from Wilkinson to switch play.
Giteau launched a clever kick in behind Sarries’ front-line defence, allowing Drew Mitchell to race onto the ball and offload back inside as Alex Goode made a despairing covering tackle.
Giteau strode over in the right-hand corner, and with Wilkinson expertly converting, Toulon found themselves 7-3 up in the 31st minute.
Earlier penalty misses for Saracens through Marcelo Bosch and Farrell proved costly as Wilkinson extended that Toulon lead with 38 minutes on the clock. A powerful maul from the French side’s forwards brought a penalty advantage from referee Alain Rolland, but Wilkinson instead struck with a sweet drop goal.
Farrell was provided with the ideal chance to reduce the deficit for Saracens shortly after the interval, as Matt Stevens milked another scrum penalty from Xavier Chiocci, who was subbed off after Farrell knocked over the three points.
With Toulon showing their depth by springing the likes of former All Black Ali Williams and France lock Jocelino Suta from the bench, a magnificent turnover penalty by Armitage resulted in Wilkinson kicking his side into a 13-6 lead in the 54th minute.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
A try of sheer quality sealed the Toulon win in the 60th minute, as Wilkinson’s long pass under pressure allowed Mitchell to release Mathieu Bastareaud up the right. The heavyweight France centre offloaded to Smith, who exchanged passes with Fernandez Lobbe to finish a remarkable team score.
Wilkinson’s superb conversion from out wide sent Toulon 20-6 in front with less than 20 minutes remaining and the English out-half slotted a long-range penalty soon after, benefiting from Farrell leaving a shoulder in on Bryan Habana.
With Mathieu Bastareaud attempting a drop goal, Armitage running riot at defensive rucks, and Virgile Bruni having a late gallop up the left wing, Toulon were comfortable in seeing out the remainder of the game, securing their second consecutive European title.
Tries: M Giteau, J Smith
Conversions: J Wilkinson 
Penalties: J Wilkinson 
Drop goal: J Wilkinson
Penalties: O Farrell 
TOULON: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana; Jonny Wilkinson (capt.) (Maxime Mermoz), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Michael Claassens); Xavier Chiocci (Alexandre Menini), Craig Burden ( Jean-Charles Orioli), Carl Hayman (Martin Castrogiovanni); Bakkies Botha (Ali Williams), Danie Rossouw (Jocelino Suta); Juan Smith (Virgile Bruni), Juan Fernandez Lobbe (yellow card ’22), Steffon Armitage.
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle (Chris Wyles); Owen Farrell (Charlie Hodgson), Richard Wigglesworth (Neil de Kock); Mako Vunipola (Richard Barrington), Schalk Brits (Jamie George), Matt Stevens (James Johnston); Steve Borthwick (capt.), Alistair Hargreaves (Mouritz Botha); Kelly Brown, Jacques Burger (Jackson Wray), Billy Vunipola.
Referee: Alain Rolland [IRFU].