Jonny Wilkinson's magical drop-goal sent Toulon through to their first ever Heineken Cup final with a 24-12 win over Saracens.
Jonny Wilkinson's magical drop goal sent Toulon through to their first ever Heineken Cup final with a 24-12 win over Saracens.
It was a match of Test-level intensity in front of a distinctly un-Test like crowd. The boots of Farrell and Wilkinson dominated throughout, with the former England fly-half's last effort easily the best of the lot.
With a meagre crowd of 25,584 in attendance both sides sought to puncture what was a hollow atmosphere – a disappointing situation that reflected poorly on the sport.
Wilkinson will take the plaudits and rightly so, but the work of Toulon's pack was the true cause for their success. Chris Masoe in particular was outstanding – bullying the opposition on the run and on the ground.
Saracens were never truly shut out but their opportunities as the second-half wore on were wasted – Farrell and Joel Tomkins the culprits for failing to benefit from generous overlaps on the left. A second Heineken Cup semi-final loss that will sting much greater than the first.
Danie Rossouw's careless high tackle led to Farrell opening the scoring in the second minute with a penalty, Wilkinson responding instantly as both kickers opened their accounts.
A sustained attack started by Delon Armitage culminated in Wilkinson putting Toulon ahead with another penalty – the French side's scrum boasting the early advantage. Another penalty following a break from Alexis Palisson had left Toulon 9-3 ahead at the end of the opening quarter.
Penalties from both kickers added to the scoreboard – Palisson avoiding being sent to the bin for a deliberate knock on – before Farrell cut the deficit to three with Bastareaud isolated at the breakdown.
In the shootout between both kickers somebody had to miss first, Farrell failing with a chance to level the scores before half-time with a long-range penalty – Toulon ahead 12-9 at the interval.
Far from flash but intensely physical, Toulon's power began to tell after the break through runs from Masoe and Rossouw resulting in yet another scrum penalty – Andrew Sheridan imposing his mark as Wilkinson added another three points.
Saracens however remained in touch and they made it count – Rossouw's second careless tackle seeing him sent to the bin with Farrell striking the penalty.
Sin-binnings transform matches such as these and it spurred Saracens into life. Vunipola rumbled and hustled his way through the defence before sprinting clear, the attack eventually crumbling as Farrell's wide pass to Brown drifted forward and cost a crucial try.
The introduction of Charlie Hodgson for the injured Brad Barritt handed Saracens an extra cultured boot in midfield, but Saracens continued to lose out at the breakdown – Masoe's presence felt once more.
With a magnificent long-range strike from within his own half, Wilkinson halted the Saracens resurgence momentarily.
At times their own worst enemy, another huge overlap was squandered – Tomkins' pass this time letting the Premiership leaders down as it drifted forward with numbers out wide.
Jean-Charles Orioli's moment of madness nearly cost Toulon a score as he threw a lineout into Sheridan's back, but the French side escaped once more.
Rudi Wulf had the chance to kill off the game after besting Alex Goode in the air, his offload to Bastareaud drifting forward before Palisson came a fingertip away from heading to the right-hand corner after Matt Giteau's clever cross-field kick.
Wilkinson though had another magical moment in his locker – half-tackled by Farrell, he drilled over an astonishing drop-goal to put Toulon out of sight. An unfathomable piece of skill few players could execute.
A further penalty from Wilkinson widened the gap to 24-12 and so it remained – Twickenham's favourite son named Man of the Match and appropriately booting the ball into touch to send Toulon to Dublin and a final with Clermont.
Pens: Farrell 4
Pens: Wilkinson 7
Drop Goal: Wilkinson
Yellow Card: Rossouw
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 George Kruis, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 SÃ©bastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Danie Rossouw, 5 Nick Kennedy, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Joe van Niekerk, 20 Steffon Armitage, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Jocelino Suta.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland), Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Citing Commissioner: Denis Templeton (Ireland)
by Ben Coles