London - Australia wing Drew Mitchell's brilliant late try ensured Toulon
became the first club to win three successive European titles as they
beat French rivals Clermont 24-18 in a thrilling Champions Cup final at
Twickenham on Saturday.
Clermont were 11-3 up midway through the
first half yet turned round with Toulon leading 16-11 after Leigh
Halfpenny's remorseless boot and a converted try by Mathieu Bastareaud
saw the champions into the lead.
But Nick Abendanon's converted
try for Clermont just after the hour cut Toulon's lead to a point only
for Mitchell to have the last word.
Toulon and Wales full-back
Halfpenny punished Clermont's indiscipline with four penalties and also
kicked a conversion in a 14-point haul.
Clermont had a setback
shortly before the match kicked off when Australian fly-half Brock
James suffered a thigh injury in the warm-up and was ruled out.
But such is their strength in depth, his place was taken by France international Camille Lopez.
though, kicked off with four World Cup-winners in their side in Bryan
Habana, Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith and Ali Williams.
Up front, however, Clermont's initial dominance at the scrum led to two penalties, both kicked by Lopez.
But a infringement in front of their own posts was duly punished by Halfpenny.
However, it was Clermont who scored the game's first try, in the 25th minute.
Morgan Parra charged down a kick off the back of a ruck by Sebastien
Tillous-Borde and France centre Wesley Fofana gathered the loose ball
and ran in unopposed before diving over flamboyantly for a try in the
Lopez missed the difficult conversion but Clermont
were still 11-3 up before two more penalties from the remorseless boot
of Halfpenny, cut their lead to just two points.
Halfpenny then, surprisingly, missed a 45-metre effort from wide out on the right.
Toulon - having failed to get the most out of a star-studded back
division for much of the opening 40 minutes - hit Clermont with a
sucker-punch try on the stroke of half-time.
A blindside break
from a ruck saw the ball moved quickly left to Bastareaud, with the
France centre powering through a gap between prop Davit Zirakashvili and
wing Noa Nakaitaci.
Halfpenny, underlining his status as one of
the world's top goalkickers, made light of the tricky conversion and
Toulon, who had been eight points down, instead led 16-11 at the break.
They nearly had a second try early in the second half when back-row forward Steffon Armitage bounced off full-back Abendanon.
found Matt Giteau but the Australia fly-half, with compatriot Mitchell
and Halfpenny outside him, saw his back of the hand pass fly into touch
as he was hauled down short of the line.
But Nakaitaci then gifted
Toulon a penalty when, after making a mess of gathering the ball, he
deliberately threw the ball into touch.
Halfpenny's boot made it 19-11.
It seemed as if Clermont's handling errors and a series of Armitage turnovers, would deny them the try they needed.
just after the hour mark, Abendanon chipped the ball over the top of
the defence and regathered to score a try under the posts.
Lopez converted and Toulon were now just a point in front at 19-18.
Toulon came within inches of another try when New Zealand's Williams
lost control just in the act of going over in the corner.
But, with 11 minutes remaining, Mitchell's class saw him score a superb try.
the ball at pace on Clermont's 10-metre line, he sidestepped several
would-be defenders in a slalom run for a brilliant solo score.
though missed the conversion and Clermont still had hope but there was
to be no revenge for their 2013 European final defeat by Toulon.