Biarritz edge Toulon for euro glory
May 18, 2012
Biarritz celebrate capturing their first European title and booking a place in next season's Heineken Cup
© Getty Images
Biarritz claimed a controversial 21-18 victory over Toulon in their Amlin Challenge Cup final clash at The Stoop on Friday night.
Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili stole the show and eclipsed Toulon rival Jonny Wilkinson with a faultless kicking display but arguably should not have been on the field to slot his seventh and match-winning penalty. A late yellow card offence was not spotted by the officials and he was able to steer his side to their first European title and also guarantee the Basque side Heineken Cup rugby next season. It was rough justice for a Toulon side that weathered yellow cards for prop Carl Hayman and flanker Steffon Armitage with Wilkinson's boot keeping them in a largely uninspiring contest only for Biarritz to pip them to the glory.
Biarritz had to win to qualify for the Heineken Cup for a 13th consecutive season after finishing ninth in the Top 14 and therefore outside the qualification places following a disappointing domestic campaign. Toulon, beaten Amlin Challenge Cup finalists in 2010, are already assured of their place among the elite next season and face Racing Metro in the Top 14 quarter-finals next weekend.
Rain ahead of kick off did little to encourage a free-flowing game and it was no surprise when Yachvili opted for the posts after a bright start from his side was rewarded with a penalty. The result was a superbly-struck kick that both served as a warning and gave his side a deserved lead. Toulon delivered a swift response at scrum time and while Wilkinson lacked Yachvili's precision from the tee, he made no mistake a few minutes later after his forwards had earned him a chance to atone for his earlier miss.
They were not on level terms for long with a blend of brains and brawn forcing Toulon onto the back foot before Yachvili doubled his tally with another excellent kick. The tit-for-tat exchange would continue in a game painfully lacking in flair the rain with Wilkinson adding his second penalty before Yachvili defied the testing conditions to edge his side ahead once more.
Yachvili's prowess was not confined to place kicking with a decision to turn down a penalty in favour of a quick tap threatening to lift the game as a spectacle. There were no such risk taking from Toulon with Wilkinson wasting no time in pointing to the posts on the half hour but his latest effort would soon be cancelled out by Yachvili's metronomic left boot. In the last act of the first half, Toulon fullback Benjamin Lapeyre was some way short with a long-range penalty but his side would have little cause for complaint to be heading to the tunnel just three points adrift having been second best by some way in the opening period.
Sylvain Marconnet gets a kiss from skipper Imanol Harinordoquy © Getty Images
The whistle of referee Wayne Barnes continued to regularly punctuate the action in the early stages of the second half with Wilkinson happy to capitalise on the alarmingly high penalty count with his fourth kick that tied the scores again. But while they were level on the scoreboard, they soon had to contend with a more significant numerical disadvantage with Hayman the first to be sin-binned. And the New Zealander appeared lucky to escape with just a yellow card having seemingly tipped Biarritz winger Taku Ngwenya before driving him into the ground. The faultless Yachvili made him pay for his moment of madness and there was soon more woe for Toulon with a second yellow card - this time for Steffon Armitage. The recently-crowned Top 14 Player of the Season was penalised for blatantly entering a ruck from the side in the shadow of his own posts and there was no danger of Yachvili missing the simple kick that gave his side some breathing room for the first time in the game.
Hayman returned without any further to the scoreboard and it was he wasted little time in making amends by spearheading another impressive scrum that laid the platform for Wilkinson's latest effort. With the clock running down on Armitage's sin-bin, Biarritz looked to turn the screw but were guilty of failing to capitalise on a glut territory and possession. Wilkinson was not so wasteful with a trademark drop goal just past the hour mark but his ambitious attempt to give his side the lead for the first time a couple of minutes later fell agonisingly short.
Yachvili was the next to chance his arm with the officials with an ankle tap on his Toulon counterpart Sebastien Tillous-Borde whilst in an off-side position and with his rival poised to exploit an opening. Crucially his offence was not spotted by the officials and he would heap woe on Toulon just moments later by slotting his seventh penalty to edge his side nearer victory.
Back came Toulon, desperate to engineer another drop goal attempt for Wilkinson that would force extra time but a simple crossing error brought a disappointing end to their title challenge and sparked jubilation among their opponents.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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