A last-gasp try from Cheslin Kolbe was too late to swing momentum Toulon’s way as Lyon overpowered their Top 14 rivals to clinch their first European title on Friday night.
The Springbok star, who had recovered from a broken thumb to take his place in the Toulon team, scored with six minutes left at Stade Vélodrome, but by then Leo Berdeu and Charles Ngatai had each hit a penalty to condemn the French giants to a fourth Challenge Cup final defeat.
New Zealanders Ngatai and Jordan Taufua were at the heart of a tough-as-teak Lyon defence that nullified the threat from the likes of Kolbe and helped Les Coups (The Wolves) to a comprehensive 30-12 victory over Toulon in Marseille.
Eben Etzebeth, too, worked tirelessly for Toulon but he was stunned in the 72nd minute, the Bok enforcer planted on the turf by Georgian 19-year-old Davit Niniashvili, who then sprung up and tracked back to haul in Kolbe.
Lyon led 10-7 at half time thanks to Baptiste Couilloud’s try converted by Berdeu, who also bagged a penalty. Baptiste Serin crossed for Toulon’s try, Louis Carbonel hitting the extras.
Lyon turned the screw in the second half, with a penalty try followed by a try for Pierre-Louis Barassi with Toulon’s Aymeric Luc in the sin bin.
Taufua said his team had been “after a performance we could be proud of and I thought we did that tonight.
“Championships are won on defence and the boys stepped up.”
Toulon coach Franck Azema said Lyon had produced a “great performance”, adding: “Rugby is a pressure game and we yielded to the pressure. They were better in just about everything.”
Fans had barely got comfortable before Couilloud gathered a Ngatai chip and streaked over, but referee Luke Pearce ruled out the try because of an earlier knock-on by Lyon captain Taufua.
Taufua’s barnstorming start to the match, however, got just desserts in the eighth minute when he intercepted a pass by Italy veteran Sergio Parisse and surged towards the Toulon tryline.
The defence managed to bring him down, but Taufua popped up a delicious offload that Couilloud took without breaking stride for the opening try. Berdeu kicked the conversion despite the deafening whistles from the massed ranks of Toulon fans.
Toulon reacted as they would have wanted, enjoying their first period of sustained pressure, Serin eventually crashing over from short range with the Lyon defence in tatters. Carbonel booted the extras, but Berdeu restored Lyon’s lead after Toulon were penalised for a high tackle.
Ngatai, who is due to join Leinster at the end of the season, seemingly went close as he ran on to his own grubber through, but Pearce wasn’t even tempted to go to the TMO.
Toulon roared back up the pitch, the ball was worked wide to Fijian Jiuta Wainiqolo and only a double tackle from Toby Arnold and Josua Tuisova prevented a try.
Berdeu shanked a straightforward second penalty just before half time, and if that was not bad enough, Niniashvili had a try disallowed after his effort to go in under the posts saw his boot just nick the deadball line.
Toulon proceded to suffer a shocking start to the second period, fullback Aymeric Luc yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on of an Arnold pass that would have put Niniashvili in the clear: a situation that left the referee with no option but to also award a penalty try.
Just a minute later, Tuisova broke up his right wing and fed Berdeu who put in a delicate grubber that Barassi gathered for Lyon’s third try, the flyhalf also converting.
Toulon spurned two shots at goal, opting instead for an attacking scrum, but Lyon responded with vigour to win their own penalty on the second set piece.
With less than 20 minutes to go, Berdeu was shown yellow for an illegal tackle, handing Toulon a possible route back into the match. But Ngatai, who also got a late yellow card, closed down options in midfield and English lock Joel Kpoku became increasingly conspicuous in close quarters.
© Agence France-Presse