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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.

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