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There will be debut Dublin delight and debut Dublin despair in around equal measure when the final whistle goes at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening to bring the curtain down on the prestigious 18th tournament final.
First time finalists ASM Clermont Auvergne and Toulon are both entering uncharted territory when they clash in an all-French affair that will see one of them join Toulouse and Brive in becoming only the third French winners of European club rugby’s most coveted silverware.
And what is a stone-cold certainty is that there will be a new name etched onto the famous trophy.
The winners will be the 10th club to lift the trophy following Toulouse with four triumphs, Leinster on three, Leicester Tigers, Munster and London Wasps on two each and Brive, Bath Rugby, Ulster Rugby and Northampton Saints on one apiece.
Clermont have swept all before them en route to the final and if Vern Cotter’s team do walk off the winners they will have created a slice of tournament history in the process as no club has won all nine matches in a season.
They finished their Pool 5 schedule with doubles over defending champions Leinster, Exeter Chiefs and the Scarlets with a mighty impressive 23-3 try count in their favour.
They stayed on French soil for both their knock-out contests, beating Montpellier 36-14 in the quarter-finals and then traveling to Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier for their semi-final showdown with former double champions Munster.
They had to survive a late charge by Paul O’Connell’s team before booking their place in Dublin, Fijian wing Napolioni Nalaga scoring an eighth minute try and then the trusty boot of Morgan Parra doing the rest in a nervy finish.
The path to the final for Bernard Laporte’s Toulon included doubles over Cardiff Blues and Sale Sharks but they went down 23-3 at an emotionally charged Montpellier in their final Pool 6 outing.
The spotlight has been firmly focused on the goal kicking of Jonny Wilkinson in the knock-out stages, the former England and British & Irish Lions outside half contributing all their points.
They had to pull out all the stops before emerging 21-15 quarter-final victors over former champions Leicester Tigers in a tremendous contest and then there was more of the same Wilkinson magic – and back-to-back Heineken Man of the Match awards for good measure – in a 24-12 last four victory over Saracens at Twickenham Stadium.
Now the stage is set for either ASM Clermont Auvergne or Toulon to put their name up in European lights.
- The 2013 all-French final will be the fourth in the history of the tournament: 2003 – Toulouse 22 Perpignan 17 (Lansdowne Road); 2005 – Toulouse 18 Stade Francais Paris 12 (aet, Murrayfield); 2010 – Toulouse 21 Biarritz Olympique 19 (Stade de France).
- With ASM Clermont Auvergne and Toulon appearing in their first tournament final, a new name will be added to the list of champions on 18 May.
- Clermont are bidding to become the first club in history to win all nine matches in the same season on their way to lifting the trophy.
- Either Clermont or Toulon will become the third French winner of the Heineken Cup after Brive (1997) and Toulouse (1996, 2003, 2005, 2010).
- With two clubs in the final, France are guaranteed seven places in the 2013/14 Heineken Cup.
- After the contest, 16 clubs will have contested a Heineken Cup final. The other finalists are: Toulouse (6), Leicester Tigers (5), Munster Rugby (4), Leinster Rugby (3), London Wasps, Stade Francais Paris, Brive, Biarritz Olympique Northampton Saints, Ulster Rugby (2), Cardiff, Bath, Colomiers, Perpignan, Clermont, Toulon (1 each).
- The most points scored by an individual in a final is the 30 scored by Diego
- Dominguez (nine penalties and a drop goal) of Stade Francais Paris in the 2001 defeat by Leicester Tigers.
The final will be third to be staged in Dublin and the first at the 51,783-capacity Aviva Stadium. The previous two matches in 1999 and 2003 were played at the old Lansdowne Road.
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Toulon are the Heineken Cup champions – but they had to come back from a nine-point deficit to stun ASM Clermont Auvergne with a 16-15 victory built on sheer never-say-die grit and determination.
The Aviva Stadium was awash with colour and noise as the two sets of French fans saw a match that built and built towards a dramatic climax that saw Toulon win the coveted trophy for the first time.
They are only the third French club to be crowned European champions – and the 10th club overall – and Clermont will rue the golden opportunity they had to make the game safe and put it out of Toulon’s reach when they ran in two tries early in the second half.
The match was always going to have to go some after a spectacular and innovative opening ceremony and it did not disappoint. Far from it – it was simply stunning.
It was fast and it was furious, and massively physical, from start to finish between two clubs who know each other’s games inside out.
The tone was set with a monstrous hit by Springbok lock Bakkies Botha on Gerard Vosloo but any pain the Clermont flanker may have felt would have been eased by seeing scrum half Morgan Parra right on target with a 45 metre penalty goal after just four minutes.
The second penalty also went Clermont’s way when Jaun-Martin Lobbe was early coming around a ruck in a prime attacking position deep in Clermont territory.
Clermont then turned the heat up at scrum time to drive the Toulon eight back and up for Parra to clear the danger with a raking touch-finder.
Jonny Wilkinson failed to find touch with a similar chance but promptly made amends when Clermont were penalised for not rolling away quickly enough for referee Alain Rolland’s liking to level matters after 14 minutes.
And that is the way it stayed on the scoreboard until the break with Clermont the ones trying to produce try scoring chances with Sitiveni Sivivatu and lock Jamie Cudmore linking well only for Lee Byrne to be double tackled and unable to keep the momentum going.
The full back responded by taking his own high kick ahead superbly but with both sides penalised for failing to release the ball promptly the flow was simply not there for any great length of time.
Mathieu Bastareaud – a rock in defence and named Heineken Man of the Match – rescued Toulon when he got a finger-tipped tackle in on Wesley Fofana as the star centre tried to skip his way though and Delon Armitage needed lengthy treatment as testimony to the ferocity of proceedings.
The celebrations of the Clermont fans for what might have been a Brock James try – the outside half getting a touch just as the ball went dead – proved premature but while the opening 40 minutes failed to produce a try what a difference the break made.
Having waited 42 minutes for points to come with the ball in hand Clermont proceeded to do it twice in six whirlwind minutes – and captain Aurelien Rougerie, an injury doubt right up until Thursday, was heavily involved in both.
First he put Naipolioni Nalaga away and the wing did superbly to stay away from the touchline and evade Armitage’s despairing tackle to dive over and this time the Clermont fans were not to be denied.
James initiated and finished off the next, collecting his own delicate chip kick over the defence and then being on Rougerie’s shoulder to take the return for the double whammy.
Wilkinson had earlier added a second penalty but Parra’s conversion opened a nine-point advantage against some tired Toulon legs.
There was no tiredness in Wilkinson’s legs as he stroked over a third penalty to keep Toulon in touch – and turnover ball won by Lobbe released Armitage for a clear run to the line and their only try.
Wilkinson added an assured conversion and Toulon were ahead for the first time with just 14 minutes remaining.
With the drama at fever pitch replacement David Skrela saw his final minute drop kick chance charged down – and the cup was Toulon’s.
ASM Clermont Auvergne: Tries – N Nalaga, B James; Con – M Parra; Pen – M Parra
Toulon: Try – D Armitage; Con – J Wilkinson; Pens – J Wilkinson (3)