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24th May 2014 18:53

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Champions: Toulon

Jonny Wilkinson's final match on British soil ended with the sweet taste of back-to-back Heineken Cup titles by defeating Saracens 23-6.

Toulon felt every bit a team packed full of world class players, exemplified through Juan Smith's try on the 60-minute mark that cut Saracens off.

Wilkinson naturally was supreme, striking the ball as well as we've ever seen the former England fly-half do so. Back-to-back Heineken Cup titles is the most fitting of conclusions to his incredible career, with possibly one more trophy to come in Paris next week.

Toulon though are not all about Wilkinson. The work of Steffon Armitage and Smith was astonishing in the turnover and tackling departments; Test level quality from Test level players. Matt Giteau's storming season was capped with a moment of genius for the opening try.

Saracens were full of appetite and endeavour but faded in the second half once Toulon tightened their muscular grip on the collisions and breakdown. They were blown away in the second half.

Owen Farrell's departure 20 minutes from time felt like a white flag, although their participation in this year's tournament will always be remembered for what they produced against Clermont at Twickenham. They will be aiming to hit the heights of that performance when they return their next weekend to face Northampton.

Although final farewells will be said to Wilkinson and Steve Borthwick next weekend when Toulon and Saracens contest their domestic finals, this felt like goodbye.

Goodbye too to the Heineken Cup; 18 years on from the first final held in this same city and one which, regardless of its imperfections logistically, has provided spectacular entertainment year-on-year without fail.

This was more brutal that classicly entertaining, played on a knife-edge that initially damaged the game's flow and tested the patience of the retiring referee Alain Rolland until Matt Giteau turned the key in the lock.

Chris Ashton's clattering of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe set the tone, the England winger flying into the Pumas from the kickoff to win a scrum from which Farrell scored the first points of the final.

Defence of the highest quality would be essential if Saracens were to succeed. On the first major test with Toulon battering away towards the line, Brad Barritt made the key turnover when it mattered.

Toulon's scrum was an early cause for concern; Xavier Chiocci's bewildered expression at the ruling of Rolland not helping an issue that swiftly needed to be corrected.

Marcelo Bosch missed the chance to extend the lead as his penalty dropped short - an unusual characteristic given his monster boot - but Toulon were struggling to find their groove.

They did however flick the physicality up several notches. Craig Burden's smash on Schalk Brits raised the roof, Saracens flinging the ball around with abandon searching for space.

Fernández Lobbe took it too far; taking out Alistair Hargreaves in the air to put the champions down to 14 men. Farrell's second attempt fell wide - six misses points for Saracens in game when none could afford to be left behind.

Toulon were just as jittery, even with all the number of caps in their side having succeeded at this stage one year ago.

The Wolfpack thrive on fear, but it was impossible to get any tempo out of the game as the TMO was called upon to review a number of questionable collisions. You sensed the first time to loosen up would triumph.

Toulon listened. Spotting the space behind Matt Giteau prodded a nightmarish bouncer ball to test Alex Goode. As the troublesome ball ballooned up into the air Drew Mitchell rose highest, gathering the ball and dropping down to Giteau on his inside for the game's first try.

That was all when Toulon were a man down. Their breakdown work even without their number seven was scrappy, disruptive.

It wouldn't have been a fitting departure for Wilkinson without a classic drop goal and when Saracens couldn't contain the Toulon maul, he duly dropped back in the pocket to stroke the ball through with his right foot with utter perfection. It handed his team a 10-3 advantage to take into half-time.

Pardon the cliché, but Saracens just had to score after the break given the deficit. So often this season Mark McCall's side have got ahead and stayed ahead, but not in Cardiff.

More scrum woes for Toulon handed Farrell a simple three points, Chiocci instantly replaced so as to stop the leak.

Saracens couldn't cope though with Steffon Armitage. The Englishman's squat position at the breakdown won a penalty for Toulon, Wilkinson's first, to restore the seven-point advantage with the sweetest of strikes.

As was the case with Leinster and Munster, Saracens just couldn't find those slight gaps to exploit in the Toulon wall. Farrell's pass to a speeding Ashton was just too late as he burst through on the inside. Fractional margins separating success and failure.

Fielding an entirely new front five before the 60-minute mark, Toulon flexed their muscles - in more ways than one.

A world class try from the champions looked to settle it. Mathieu Bastareaud's straight carry after Toulon had breached the Saracens blitz left Juan Smith and Fernández Lobbe with a brilliant one-two pass to send the medical marvel Smith over in the corner. It was an utterly perfect score befitting of the occasion.

Another penalty from Wilkinson after Farrell checked Habana, whose melodramatic dive was pitiful, slapped gloss onto the scoreline as Toulon lead 23-6.

Saracens too their credit never lay down, but you would have forgiven them for eyeing the scoreboard and wondering where the miracle was going to come from.

There wasn't to be one. Toulon savoured the final moments safe in the knowledge that victory was in the bank. Last year there was a sense that they got lucky in Dublin, but not now. They are no longer simply a club full of players on big pay packets, but double European champions. That is some accolade.

The scorers:

For Toulon:
Tries: Giteau, Smith
Cons: Wilkinson 2
Pens: Wilkinson 2
Drop Goal: Wilkinson
Yellow Card: Fernández Lobbe

For Saracens:
Pens: Farrell 2

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Sebastien Tillous Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini , 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ali Williams, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Maxime Mermoz , 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Jocelino Suta

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ire)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wal), George Clancy (Ire)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wal)

by Ben Coles

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