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RC Toulon became just the third side to retain the Heineken Cup after they saw off Saracens 23-6 at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday night.
Tries from Matt Giteau and Juan Smith and 13 points from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson ensured Toulon follow Leicester Tigers and Leinster Rugby in hanging on to European club rugby’s greatest prize for a second successive season.
Inside centre Giteau crossed on the half hour to give the Top 14 title favourites a 10-3 lead at the end of the opening 40 minutes and Smith left England’s top dogs with a mountain to climb on the hour.
Wilkinson finished his final game on British soil with a 100 per cent record from the tee as he landed two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal in a typically assured display just days after officially announcing his retirement at the end of the season.
Saracens were unable to repeat their stunning semi-final success against ASM Clermont Auvergne and a brace of Owen Farrell penalties were all they could muster as their first Heineken Cup Final appearance ended in disappointment in Cardiff.
The evening began in much brighter fashion for Sarries as they got off to the ideal start when Farrell was handed the chance to open the scoring almost immediately after the kick off. Juan Fernandez Lobbe’s uncharacteristic knock on under pressure from Chris Ashton gave Saracens a scrum put in on the 22 and Farrell knocked over the first three points when Toulon infringed at the setpiece with three minutes played.
The French giants hit back with a period of sustained pressure but a host of huge hits, including one double blow from Saracens retiring skipper Steve Borthwick and Namibian flanker Jacques Burger, eventually led to Mathieu Bastareaud being penalised for holding on after impressive work at the breakdown from Brad Barritt.
Marcelo Bosch fell short with a 45-metre penalty on 13 minutes but it was Toulon who came closest to the first try after Craig Burden charged down a Richard Wigglesworth box kick. Sebastien Tillous-Borde’s superb kick ahead had put Sarries on the back foot and it was the scrum half who came within an inch of touching down over the line as Burden hurled himself at Wigglesworth’s boot.
A brace of huge hits from the impressive Burden kept Sarries at the end of the first quarter but Farrell could have extended the lead moments later after Lobbe saw yellow for making contact with Alistair Hargreaves in the air following Wilkinson’s drop out.
Farrell had missed the target with a drop goal just before his first failure from the tee and it was Toulon who were next to trouble the scoreboard as Giteau dived over a minute before the half-hour mark. Xavier Chiocci made the initial hard yards in midfields, Wilkinson fired a flat pass back to the blindside and Giteau chipped ahead for Drew Mitchell to chase. The Wallaby wing beat Alex Goode to the awkward bounce before flicking inside to his fellow Australian for a clear run to the corner.
Wilkinson landed the near touchline conversion from the right-hand side and Toulon ended Lobbe’s 10-minute period in the sin bin with a 7-3 lead. Toulon’s main man then added a right-footed drop goal after a driven lineout after 37 minutes and the reigning champions took a 10-3 advantage into the break as a result.
Sarries were first off the mark after the interval as Farrell sent over a straightforward penalty five minutes after the restart but Wilkinson re-established the seven-point advantage with a long-range strike after Billy Vunipola failed to release seven minutes later.
Toulon then took control on the hour as Bastareaud broke clear from inside his own half and Smith and Lobbe exchanged passes for the South African to touch down in the right-hand corner. Wilkinson’s conversion from five metres in from touch made it 20-6 and he pushed his side more than two converted tries clear moments later after Farrell’s block on Bryan Habana.
Sarries did their best to mount a comeback but they never threatened the Toulon line as Bernard Laporte’s men wrote their names into the Heineken Cup history books kept alive their hopes of a remarkable European and domestic double.