Clermont crowned French champs

Morgan Parra kicked 14 points as Clermont beat Toulon 22-16 in Paris on Sunday to claim the Top 14 title. JON CARDINELLI reports.

After 21 minutes, Clermont were 13-0 up and looked to be on course for a comfortable victory. But Toulon – powered by South African forwards Duane Vermeulen, Juan Smith and Marcel van der Merwe, as well as All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu – hit back strongly in the second and third quarters.

Fritz Lee's high tackle on James O'Connor in the 35th minute was a turning point in the game. Van der Merwe and Nonu carried powerfully to breach the Clermont defence, and Josua Tuisova finished in spectactular fashion.

Anthony Belleau converted from the touchline. Parra ensured that Clermont had the final say in the half, though, kicking a penalty to extend his team's lead to 16-10.

Nevertheless, the momentum was with Toulon after the break. They kept the ball close and made steady progress through the Clermont defence.

Belleau had the opportunity to level the scores with two penalty attempts. Both struck the upright to leave Toulon trailing by six points as the game moved into the fourth quarter.

Toulon won yet another penalty in the 72nd minute. Vermeulen pointed to the posts, and François Trinh-Duc stepped up to add three points.

But poor disciipline cost Toulon in the dying stages. Parra made it six out of six when he sunk a crucial penalty goal in the 74th minute.

There was more drama when Toulon kept the ball in the final minutes. This time, when Toulon won a penalty, Vermeulen had no choice but to kick the ball to touch. How different things may have been had Belleau kicked those earlier penalties.

Clermont stood up to the final assault by Toulon, and won a penalty at the breakdown. The turnover brought an end to the game and handed Clermont the title.

Clermont – Try: Alivereti Raka. Conversion: Morgan Parra. Penalties: Parra (5).
Toulon – Try: Josua Tuisova. Conversion: Anthony Belleau. Penalties: Belleau (2), Trinh-Duc.

Clermont – 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Damian Penaud, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Judicaël Cancoriet, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 David Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphaël Chaume
Subs: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Peceli Yato 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Patricio Fernandez, 22 Aurélien Rougerie, 23 Aaron Jarvis

Toulon – 15 James O’Connor, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Liam Gill, 7 Duane Vermeulen (c), 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Marcel Van der Merwe, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Laurent Delboulbès
Subs: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Mamuka Gorgodze, 19 Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 20 François Trinh-Duc, 21 Matt Giteau, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Levan Chilachava

Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images

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