Toulon beats Saracens 23-6, retains Heineken Cup
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Star-studded French club Toulon became the third team to retain the Heineken Cup with a 23-6 win over Saracens in the final on Saturday, ensuring England great Jonny Wilkinson will retire a two-time European champion.
Matt Giteau and Juan Smith scored tries either side of halftime for Toulon at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, with Wilkinson converting both scores and adding two penalties and a trademark drop-goal to finish the next-to-last match of his glittering 17-year career with 13 points.
Only Leicester (2001-02) and Leinster (2011-12) have previously won European club rugby’s biggest prize in successive years.
Saracens, appearing in its first Heineken Cup final, took the lead through Owen Farrell’s third-minute penalty and the England flyhalf booted another in the 46th for 10-6.
But Wilkinson overshadowed his protege in his final match on British soil, kicking four attempts from four and marshalling his team’s monstrous defensive effort before being replaced in the 77th minute to a rousing ovation.
Wearing a huge grin, Wilkinson raised the trophy aloft as he was being lifted into the air by teammates on the winner’s rostrum, with tickertape exploding around them. A career that reached the heights in 2003 when he kicked the winning drop-goal in the World Cup final comes to a close next week in the Top 14 final against Castres, when Toulon goes for a first French title in 22 years.
“It’s a hell of a feeling,” Wilkinson said. “I can’t say enough how proud I am to be part of this team. This is something I will take with me forever.”
Toulon’s cast of stars were a notch above Saracens, with Australians Giteau and Drew Mitchell, South Africans Bakkies Botha, Danie Roussouw Bryan Habana and Smith and Argentina captain Juan Manuel Fernandez Lobbe joining forces to create an unstoppable force in the Welsh capital.
And in back-row forward Steffon Armitage, Toulon had the man of the match who dominated the breakdown and stole possession four times in front of England coach Stuart Lancaster. Armitage isn’t in Lancaster’s thinking ahead of next year’s World Cup because he is playing outside England but this was as persuasive a performance as he could have produced on the biggest stage.
Toulon was clinical when the try line came into view, with Giteau’s score coming in the 29th minute when Wilkinson switched play to find the Australian who sent a kick toward the right wing. Drew Mitchell beat covering Saracens full back Alex Goode to the bouncing ball and passed it down to Giteau, who raced in for a converted try in the right corner.
That came at the end of a 10-minute period in which Fernandez Lobbe was in the sin bin for a dangerous tackle but in which Toulon did not concede a point. Wilkinson then dropped a goal with his right foot — just like in that World Cup final 11 years ago — to give Toulon a 10-3 halftime lead.
Saracens hardly got a sniff in the second half after Farrell reduced the deficit to four points.
Wilkinson made it 13-6 with a penalty before Smith grabbed the key try, exchanging passes with Fernandez Lobbe on the right wing after Mathieu Bastareaud had been freed by Mitchell.
Wilkinson converted and struck a sweetly hit penalty to confirm Toulon would be kings of Europe again, justifying the fortune spent on the team by owner Mourad Boudjellal, who made his millions from publishing comic books.
“He’s a consummate professional,” Giteau said of Wilkinson. “It’s a pleasure to play with him.”