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Clermont topple Toulon to claim French Top14 title

Morgan Parra kicked 17 points in a 22-16 win.

Morgan Parra was the hero for Clermont.
Morgan Parra was the hero for Clermont.
Image: Clementz Michel

CLERMONT FINALLY HELD firm when it mattered most, beating Toulon 22-16 in Paris on Sunday to win the French Top 14 final.

Having lost 11 of 12 previous finals, Clermont had earned the unwanted monicker of perennial “chokers”.

But Morgan Parra kicked 17 points as the favourites delivered for once after so many disappointments, including losing European Champions Cup finals to Toulon in 2013 and 2015, and Saracens earlier last month.

Two years ago, they were also beaten Top 14 finalists by Stade Francais.

But having played scintillating first half rugby, without getting the reward their dominance deserved, they doggedly held firm in the second period as Toulon, beaten finalists last year by Racing 92, came storming back.

After an immaculately-respected minute’s silence in memory of the victims of Saturday’s London attack, Clermont made a blistering start and only a knock-on by captain Damien Chouly a yard from the line prevented them from opening their account early doors.

Toulon were restricted to some desperate, last-ditch — and at times barely legal — defending with one Ma’a Nonu tackle resembling a shoulder charge.

Under pressure, Toulon collapsed a scrum and Parra kicked a sixth minute penalty to give Clermont the lead.

On 10 minutes, Clermont held firm against a wave of battering Toulon attacks before Nick Abendanon ripped the ball from Romain Taofifenua’s grasp and the Jaunards launched a counter from deep inside their own 22.

Damian Penaud did brilliantly with a mazy run to scamper 50 metres upfield before passing to Fijian wing Alivereti Raka, who hitch-kicked and side-stepped inside compatriot Josua Tuisova before strolling under the posts.

Parra converted and added a second penalty to give the Vulcans a 13-0 lead.

Zest and intensity

Clermont were playing with a zest and intensity that Toulon simply couldn’t manage but New Zealand great Nonu managed to stem the yellow tide with a crucial interception off Parra inside the Toulon 22.

Barring an Anthony Belleau penalty, all the team in red could manage in attacking terms were some testing up-and-unders for full-back Abendanon.

That was until a reckless high tackle from Clermont No.8 Fritz Lee knocked Australian full-back James O’Connor unconscious.

Samoan Lee was perhaps a touch lucky to be shown only a yellow card but Clermont were soon made to pay.

South African prop Marcel van der Merwe made ground up the middle and quick ball spread wide allowed the bulldozing Tuisova to take revenge on Raka, flattening his countryman in contact and then holding off a double tackle from Penaud and Abendanon to touch down in the corner.

Belleau’s conversion from the flank brought Toulon back to within three points but a Parra penalty made it 16-10 at the break.

Clermont had scored a combined 59 points to 15 in the last two meetings between these sides but Toulon were a different proposition this time.

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It was a brutal game and Clermont lock Arthur Iturria was forced off following a head knock suffered in tackling Nonu.

His second row partner Sitaleki Timani had already left the field groggy in the first period, leaving Fijian back rower Peceli Yato to come on at lock.

Belleau and Parra traded penalties before veteran Clermont icon Aurelien Rougerie was introduced in place of Penaud to great excitement in the massed yellow ranks.

Belleau could have levelled the scores but saw two penalties hit the uprights.

Clermont went close to a try as David Strettle won a chase onto Parra’s clever kick but he couldn’t gather the ball with the line begging.

Toulon’s rugged, relentless power play was starting to wear down Clermont and a Francis Trinh-Duc penalty nine minutes from time had them back to within three points.

But these were not the Clermont chokers of old and Parra responded immediately with a kick of his own before the yellow shirted warriors held out close to their own line as Toulon launched one last-ditch attack, but in vain.

(C) AFP 2017

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