Yachvili eclipses Wilkinson in kicking duel to land European first
Biarritz 21 Toulon 18:DIMITRI YACHVILI eclipsed Jonny Wilkinson in a kicking duel and went on to take Biarritz to their first ever European title with victory over Toulon in the Amlin Challenge Cup final at London’s Stoop.
The French scrumhalf landed all seven of his penalty shots at goal but the final strike was wrapped in controversy because Yachvili, arguably, should not have been on the field.
Toulon, beaten by Cardiff in the 2010 final, had drawn level at 18-18, with five Wilkinson penalties and a trademark drop-goal, and had all the momentum when Yachvili’s sly tackle from an offside position stopped a potential try.
The officials did not see the one-handed tap tackle that led to scrumhalf Sebastien Tillous Borde passing the ball straight into touch.
It was a yellow-card offence.
Biarritz moved downfield and, with nine minutes remaining, Yachvili stroked the kick over to clinch a vital victory for the Basque outfit at the Twickenham Stoop.
Toulon had hung in there all game despite Yachvili’s kicking masterclass and Wilkinson was in position for a last-gasp drop-goal attempt that would have brought extra-time.
But the Toulon pack left him stranded, conceding a penalty on the eighth phase of the attack that confirmed Biarritz’s victory.
Toulon were fortunate to have 15 men on the field themselves at the end after prop Carl Hayman was sin-binned for a dangerous tip tackle on Takudzwa Ngwenya that could easily have been red.
Former All Black Hayman was followed into the sin-bin by Steffon Armitage, who was penalised for hitting a ruck from the side as Biarritz built pressure on the Toulon line.
For three minutes just before the hour mark, Toulon were under their own posts, down to 13 men and six forwards, but, strangely, Biarritz opted not to go for the scrum.
Yachvili kicked the penalty to open up an 18-12 lead but Toulon, energised by Hayman’s return to the action, hit back with Wilkinson’s fifth penalty and a 40-metre drop goal.
But Yachvili had the last laugh, escaping censure from touch judge JP Doyle to win his kicking duel with Wilkinson and the game for Biarritz.
Armitage was named Midi Olympique’s Top 14 player of the season and he showed glimpses of why last night, carrying the ball powerfully and defending resolutely.
But all other contributions in an arm-wrestle of a final were somewhat overshadowed by Yachvili, who pulled the strings masterfully for Biarritz.
Time and again Yachvili pinned Toulon deep into their own half with a series of pin-point kicks for touch.
Biarritz, with Imanol Harinordoquy in commanding lineout form, were dominating territory behind Yachvili’s boot but they could not quite shake Toulon off.
Biarritz had to win in order to qualify for the Heineken Cup for a 13th consecutive season after finishing ninth in the Top 14 following a disappointing domestic campaign.
The relief and joy was evident from the reaction of senior players like Damien Traille and England international Iain Balshaw , while Toulon and Wilkinson now have to turn their attention to the Top 14 in France.
Toulon must now regroup as they get ready to face Racing Metro in the Top 14 quarter-finals next weekend.
TOULON: Lapyeyre, Palisson, Bastareaud, Giteau, D Smith, Wilkinson, Tillous-Borde, Roberts, Bruno, Hayman, Samson, Chesney, Gunther, Armitage, van Niekerk. Replacements: Orioli for Bruno (51), Schofield for Chesney (57). Not Used: Emmanuelli, Kubriashvili, El Abd, Messina, Cibray, Suta. Sin Bin: Hayman (45).
BIARRITZ: Balshaw, Ngwenya, Barraque, Traille, Haylett-Petty, Peyrelongue, Yachvili, Watremez, Heguy, van Staden, Thion, Taele, Lauret, Guyot, Harinordoquy. Replacements: Bosch for Peyrelongue (72), Marconnet for Watremez (41), August for Heguy (69), Gomez Kodela for van Staden (59), E. Lund for Thion (69), Gray for Guyot (50). Not Used: Gimenez, Bolakoro.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).