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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 24 February, 2020

Toulon just became the best club team ever as success eludes Clermont in another heartbreaker

The galacticos became the first team to ever win three straight European Cups.

Drew Mitchell scored a decisive second half try for Toulon.
Drew Mitchell scored a decisive second half try for Toulon.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Toulon 24-18 Clermont

ANYONE WORRIED THAT a half-empty Twickenham would impact the on-field intensity of Toulon v Clermont had their fears put away after a few minutes, when fullback Nick Abendanon sexily offloaded around a Toulon defender to put Napolioni Nalaga clear on the left wing.

The Fijian didn’t score – he was upended by Toulon wing Bryan Habana, which foreshadowed the game’s conclusion – but the burst set the tone for a very exciting final.

Toulon outlasted their French rivals to claim an unprecedented third straight European Cup, which positions them as possibly the best ever club team.

Scarily, they are about to get even better.

Before the game their owner Mourad Boudjellal ominously said that ‘three isn’t history, that’s four’, which explains the acquisition of Ma’a Nonu, Quade Cooper and Samu Manoa.

On a macro level, the inaugural Champions Cup final was similar to the 2013 Heineken Cup decider these two teams played in Dublin. Toulon soaked up pressure like a sponge before unleashing their strike runners at key times. Steffon Armitage and Mathieu Bastareaud were both superb and seemingly inter-changable, with the flanker popping up out wide on a few occasions to make big breaks and the centre jackling at the breakdown masterfully.

Everyone was intrigued to see how Brock James would fare at out-half for Clermont, but we were robbed of that sub-plot as the Australian pulled up in the warm-up.

Clermont took an early advantage after Morgan Parra blocked down Sebastien Tillous-Borde’s box-kick. The ball bounced perfectly into the path of Wesley Fofana, who skated past Toulon back row Chris Masoe to dot down in the corner.

Toulon lift the Champions Cup Trophy Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That made it 11-3 but Toulon used every ounce of wily savvy they could muster to edge back into the game.

They were helped by Clermont hooker Benjamin Kayser. The Frenchman had previously lost three European Cup finals and did his utmost in a five-minute period to make it four from four, conceding two penalties that Leigh Halfpenny converted.

Those two kicks and one other allowed Toulon to narrow the gap to one as the clock struck 40.

Then, Clermont went full Clermont. Rather than put the ball out, Abendanon chipped poorly in midfield and Toulon ran the ball all the way back down to within 5m of the try-line. You aren’t going to stop Bastareaud from that distance – 16-11 to Toulon at half time.

Another Halfpenny penalty right after the break was followed by 15 minutes of intense Toulon dominance. Their pack were rolling and their auld lads looked ten years younger.

But then Abendanon righted the wrong of the first half, ironically by doing the exact same thing. A sliced Habana clearance landed right in his basket and he collected his own deft dink in the Toulon 22 to score under the posts.

But the champions were the more assured team throughout and were very clinical. The best example of that was the game’s final score. Drew Mitchell cut a sharp angle off a Toulon maul and danced past four Clermont tacklers to score in the corner.

Camille Lopez tackles Bakkies Botha Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Halfpenny uncharacteristically missed the conversion, which meant that just like in Dublin in 2013, we would get to enjoy Clermont frantically searching for a winning score.

Frantic Clermont is by far their most entertaining vintage.

Unfortunately, at out-half they had Camille Lopez, who routinely stood ten yards behind the gain line, in contrast to Matt Giteau, who probed and pushed the Clermont defence from a very flat position.

Another searing Abendanon break brought Clermont into the Toulon 22 for one last chance. The Toulon defence was impenetrable on this occasion as Lopez tried a cross-kick, which Habana hoovered up.

It was always possible that the game would end with a Clermont out-half making a bad decision. Funnily enough, this time their fans would probably have loved to see Brock James out there pulling the strings.

LIVE: Toulon v Clermont, Champions Cup final

Clermont ready to topple mighty Toulon and the weight of history

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