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Wilkinson’s Toulon retain European Cup Our work rate was the main factor: Armitage

CARDIFF, United Kingdom, May 24, (AFP): Jonny Wilkinson’s final match in Britain ended in joy for the England great as reigning champions Toulon beat Sar-acens 23-6 in the European Cup final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday. Toulon captain Wilkinson kicked 13 points in a match where the star-studded French side scored tries through Australia’s Matt Giteau and South Africa’s Juan Smith. All Saracens had to show for their efforts were two penalties from Owen Farrell, Wilkinson’s current successor as England fly-half. Victory meant Toulon, who edged out French rivals Clermont 16-15 in last season’s final, became only the third team after England’s Leicester and Irish province Leinster to retain the European Cup. This win also kept Toulon on course for a ‘double’ ahead of next weekend’s French Top 14 final with Castres.

That match is now set to be Wilkinson’s last after he announced his retirement earlier this week.
“I am proud to be part of this team and be part of this. The season has one more week to go, I will take this with me forever.” Toulon No 8 Steffon Armitage, in England exile because he plays his club rugby in France, was named man-of-the-match after forceful work at the breakdown. “We knew it was going to be really tough. Our work rate was the main factor,” Armitage said. As for his ongoing England exclusion, Armitage said: “I can’t control that, the only thing I can control is what I do on the pitch. I’m trying to become a better rugby player myself.”

Saracens, like Toulon, now also have a shot at domestic glory as next Saturday sees them playing Northampton in the English Premiership final. Under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium, Toulon once more looked to get the better of Saracens following their 24-12 semi-final win over the London club last season — a match where Wilkinson kicked all his side’s points. For Saracens captain Steve Borthwick, like Wilkinson, this was set to be his penultimate match before retirement. The London club appearing in their first European final of any kind, took a second-minute lead when Toulon’s former All Blacks prop Carl Heyman was penalised for popping up at a scrum. Farrell kicked the penalty and Saracens led 3-0. Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch, Saracens’ long-range kick specialist and Farrell both saw 45 metre penalty efforts fall short.

But with Toulon down to 14 men after Lobbe was sent to the sin-bin for tackling airborne Saracens-lock Alistair Hargreaves, they revitalised a stuttering match with their first try.
In the build-up to this match Saracens coach Mark McCall had highlighted Giteau as a dangerman and he was proved right in the 29th minute.
Wilkinson switched play with an inside pass to Giteau, whose clever chip kick into space saw Drew Mitchell beat Saracens full-back Alex Goode to the high bouncing ball.
Former Wallaby wing Mitchell then passed out of the tackle to the supporting Giteau, who’d followed up his own kick, and the centre raced in for a try.
Wilkinson made light of a difficult conversion from out near the touchline to give Toulon a 7-3 lead.
And that became 10-3 when, two minutes before half-time, a huge drive by the powerful Toulon pack from a lineout saw Wilkinson land a drop-goal off his weaker, right foot — just as he’d done to seal England’s 2003 World Cup final win over Australia in Sydney.


Seven points down at the break, Saracens needed to score first in the second half and did so when Farrell landed a routine penalty after Toulon collapsed a scrum.
However, Wilkinson then kicked a penalty after Armitage had got over the ball at a tackle.
Toulon then sealed victory with a match-clinching try on the hour.
France centre Mathieu Bastareaud started the move with an outside break before passing to Smith, who took the ball brilliantly one-handed behind him.
Former Springbok Smith exchanged passes with Lobbe in a neat one-two before crossing for a fine try.
Wilkinson duly converted to make it 20-6 and that soon became 23-6 when, after Farrell’s late hit on Springbok wing Bryan Habana, he landed a 40-metre penalty — his fifth successful shot at the posts from as many attempts.
There was no way back for Saracens and a crowd of nearly 68,000 cheered Wilkinson to the echo when Toulon coach Bernard Laporte, the former France boss, replaced him late on with Maxime Mermoz.





 

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