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Monday, May 20, 2013

Toulon and Clermont Auvergne: High Drama in Dublin.

Toulon and Clermont Auvergne have not just been the two best teams in the French Top 14, but they have looked to be the two best club sides in Europe throughout this 2012-13 Heineken Cup season.

Vern Cotter's high flying Michelen Men have been racking up points at a dizzying rate all year. Toulon's band of expensive team have played some very good rugby throughout the season. Both teams were trying to win their first Heineken Cup title. Toulon has had a run of bad luck in finals from the last 20 years. In spite of the money shelled out, they have yet to win any hardware. Clermont Auvergne have only recently removed a gorilla-sized monkey from their yellow and blue backs three years ago, when they finally hoisted Le Bouclier de Brennus, the grail of the French Top 14.

In the end, Toulon came from behind to win a 16-15 nail-biter. In spite of all of the possession that Clermont had, Johnny Wilkinson and his mates held their discipline and did not concede a penalty that Clermont could have cashed in for the winning points. Johnny Wilkinson was a key player for Toulon, scoring 3 penalty goals and a conversion off Delon Armitage's tongue and finger wagging try that was set up beautifully off turnover ball provided by Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

Early in the second half, the two tries that Clermont scored from Nalaga-in a nice bit of keeping his feet in-bounds in spite of going at great pace; and Brock James cashed in off some nice work from Rougerie, would be enough to see the Michelen men through.

Wilkinson's boot kept Toulon around. He also would play a key role late in the game when he and Bastareaud would charge down a late drop goal attempt by David Skrela to help seal the Toulon win. For a man whose moment in the sun has been his iconic drop goal for England against Australia in the 2003 RWC final, the addition of the Heineken Cup was the fruition of the Resurrection of his career on the south coast of France.

As good as this final was, there is the strong possibility that these two teams can be playing each other in a couple of weeks-if they can win their semi-finals against Castres and Toulouse, who were both able to rest their aching bodies this past weekend. One thing for sure, a lot of fans would love to see Toulon and Clermont throw it down again with Le Bouclier de Brennus on the line. I will say, it was one of the best Heineken Cup finals I have seen in awhile. It was too bad that somebody had to lose, but I think a lot of people-particularly in England-were pulling for Johnny Wilkinson and his mates in Red and Black.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Catching up on Rugby News for Metropolis and Pasadena.

Wow, I have been really remiss in posting. So much for my New Years Resolution. I started OK, but after mid-March, I kept finding something else to do.

The two club sides in the USA that are the closest to my heart, Metropolis RFC in Minnesota and the Pasadena RFC out in California both had impressive play in the past month to qualify for Nationals: Metropolis won the Midwest Division I title in simply dominant fashion, by smoking long time rivals-and a fellow national semi-finalist from last year, Palmer College 74-5. That is not a typo. It surely has to be the greatest margin of victory Metropolis had against a team that is one of the powers in Midwest rugby. Metropolis gets Middlesex in the Sweet 16 in Norfolk, Virginia. Here is the rest of the Division I  Bracket:'s-di-clubs/7872-mens-di-club-bracket-updated.html
Pasadena had to overcome a serious upset bid from San Fernando Valley in the Southern Cal Semifinals

Pasadena had a slightly rockier road in the Southern California DII playoffs. The number two seed had a much tougher match than anticipated against San Fernando Valley, coming from behind to win in dramatic fashion, 25-10. In the other semifinal, Las Vegas, the number one side, was dumped 11-10 by South Bay-a team that was riding an emotional roller coaster after losing their fullback in a car accident.  The team, made up of players of mostly Pacific Island origin came into the final with their hard-hitting style. Again, Pasadena had to come from behind to pull off the emotional win in a very, very tense game, 27-15, that was much closer than the score would indicate. Pasadena's reward is a Sweet 16 match against the local Frisco Griffins, in Dallas.'s-dii-clubs/7880-dii-mens-club-bracket-update.html
Pasadena will hope to ride the strong back of Little Ray...
All in all, a great couple of weeks for the two clubs that are near and dear to my heart. My rugby past and present has put a spring in this old prop's step this.

Oh, one more thing. Both clubs are just loaded with great people. I think rugby people are the nicest people anywhere, but I feel doubly lucky to have been involved with both of these winning, classy clubs.