Toulon win battle of bullies against Saracens in Cardiff
Matt Giteau’s moment of magic lights up flat Heineken Cup finale
Toulon’s Matt Giteau scores a try despite the tackle of Saracens’ Richard Wigglesworth during the Heineken Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
RC Toulon 23 Saracens 6: The new superpower in the European game duly emulated Leicester (2000-01) and Leinster (2011-12) by retaining the Heineken Cup, and thus become the last side ever to do so.
Toulon achieved the feat in a somewhat anti-climactic final under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium, weathering a strong Saracens start to boss the game with their mix of experience and know-how, especially at the breakdown, along with no little skill in two well-worked tries, and won pulling away.
It was everything you’d expect of a heavily Anglo-Afrikaans influenced final, ie full of big hits, heavyweight collisions and scarcely any vision. This final encapsulated modern day rugby. As one Irishman watching said of it, it reminded him of his days bouncing on Leeson Street. Ultimately, Toulon’s victory proved they had the better, and more high-achieving and experienced South Africans, as well as just more of them.
Their array of World Cup winners added to their collection of medals, with Bryan Habana thus emulating Brad Thorn as well as team-mates Bakkies Botha and the retiring Danie Roussouw as the only players to have garnered World Cup, Super Rugby and Heineken Cup winners medals. The Toulon trio will now be heavily fancied to add the club’s first French Championship next Saturday with their revenge final against Castres.
Along with their strength in contact and in depth, Matt Giteau, graced the game with one moment of class, but their trump cards were their backrow, Juan Smith and Juan Fernandez-Lobbe putting in the hard yakka for Steffon Armitage to do what he does like no-one else, to add another four turnovers to his 17 to date in the tournament, as well as 14 carries and 16 tackles of his own as he eclipsed the English incumbent Billy Vunipola.
There was also the unerring game management and kicking of that ultimate pro and role model Jonny Wilkinson, who kicked 13 points in his farewell game on British soil the day before he turns 35. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” Wilkinson said afterwards. “I can’t say enough how proud I am to be a part of this team and to be able to play in this competition. Our season has one more week but this is something I will take with me forever.”
Misleadingly, the early gains were all for Saracens, right from Owen Farrell’s kick-off. The hang time for his opening effort permitted the chasing Chris Ashton to empty Lobbe of the ball and very nearly his innards as well. Matt Stevens earned a penalty from the game’s first re-set scrum for Farrell to open the scoring.