Lyon advanced to the Top 14 semi-finals after scoring two tries to one in a 19-19 extra-time semi-final qualifier draw against Toulon on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Extraordinary scenes played out at the Stade Felix Mayol as Lyon, appearing in the Top 14 playoffs for the first time, eliminated Toulon. It is the first time in eight seasons that Toulon have failed to reach the semi-finals.
The game was forced into extra-time after Toulon flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc failed to hit the target with a late attempted drop goal. But he stepped up with a penalty goal immediately from the kick-off to put his side 19-16 up.
More drama followed at the end of the first half of extra time, in added-on time, when Toulon centre Ma’a Nonu was shown a yellow card for leading with a shoulder against Lyon replacement Frederick Michalak, who had to leave the field because of the hit.
With the man-over advantage, Lyon dominated the second half of extra-time. Flyhalf Mike Harris slotted a penalty to draw level again and while there were no further points scored, Lyon booked their place in the semi-finals because they outscored Toulon two tries to one.
Toulon’s enigmatic president Mourad Boudjellal will be fuming after this performance and rightly so. They were hot favourites to win at home. But Lyon, despite coming up second best in the territorial and possession stakes, smartly stayed in the fight and held their nerve at the end to complete a dramatic win to set up a semi-final clash with Montpellier.
Toulon’s wings Chris Ashton and Semi Radradra were particularly out of sorts, as they butchered what should have been three regulation tries between them. Ashton, who broke the record for the most tries scored in a single Top 14 campaign with 23 this season, was set up with a clear path to the tryline twice in the first half and on both occasions he dropped the ball cold.
Lyon were under relentless pressure early on in the game, conceding six penalties in the opening 20 minutes. Fortunately for them, Toulon failed to capitalise and the hosts were made to rue missed chances as Harris nailed two penalties to give Lyon a 6-0 advantage.
Toulon pulled three points back during Lyon captain Julien Puricelli’s stint in the sin bin for a high tackle and then levelled matters with a second penalty early in the second half. Toulon then hit Lyon on the counter when Nonu put in a big hit in midfield before ripping the ball in the tackle and releasing Ashton down the left flank to score and extend his record to 24 tries this season.
But there were to be more twists in the tale as Lyon dotted down twice, on either side of a third Toulon penalty goal, to level the scores at 16-16 with 10 minutes remaining.
With time running out, Toulon launched another attack – albeit unstructured – but Lyon’s defence was resolute as they staved off the threat, effected a turnover and booted the ball into touch to make sure the match went to extra-time.
Toulon – Try: Chris Ashton. Conversion: Anthony Belleau. Penalties: Belleau (2), Francois Trinh-Duc (2).
Lyon – Tries: Toby Arnold, Dylan Cretin. Penalties: Mike Harris (3).
Toulon – 15 Chris Ashton, 14 Joshua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Raphael Lakafia, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia.
Subs: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Laurent Delboulbes, 18 Romain Taofifenua, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 Malakai Fekitoa, 22 Alby Mathewson, 23 Levan Chilachava.
Lyon – 15 Toby Arnold, 15 Alexis Palisson, 13 Rudi Wolf, 12 Thibaut Regard, 11 Xavier Mignot, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Jonathan Pelissie, 8 Tai Tuifua, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Julien Puricelli (c), 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Felix Lambey, 3 Francisco Gomez-Kodela, 2 Michael Ivaldi, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Subs: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Stephane Clement, 18 Francois van der Merwe, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Frederic Michalak, 21 Dylan Cretin, 22 Theo Belan, 23 Richard Choirat.
Photo: Getty Images