Toulon will face Racing in the French Top 14 final after they beat Montpellier 27-18 in Rennes on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
One commentator aptly described this match as ‘Mourad Boudjellal’s millions against Mohed Altrad’s millions’. And in the end, it was Boudjellal’s self-proclaimed Galacticos from the Mediterranean south coast who progressed to their fourth Top 14 final in five years.
For Altrad’s team, who have been playing as the same match-day squad for the vast majority of the second half of the season, it was one step too far.
Like Racing in the first semi-final, Toulon were up against the more consistent side over the course of the season and won.
Leigh Halfpenny kept the scoreboard ticking over for Toulon and finished with a personal tally of 17 points via five penalties and a conversion. The Wales fullback did skew a conversion, his first unsuccessful attempt off the tee for the club this season.
South African lock Jacques du Plessis was Montpellier’s standout player in an otherwise underwhelming performance by Jake White’s charges.
Halfpenny and Catrakilis traded penalties twice in the opening 15 minutes, before the former nailed his third on the 20-minute mark to win that kicking battle.
The first try came in bizarre fashion when Steffon Armitage made a nuisance of himself at a ruck and sprinted away towards the tryline. Montpellier’s Jacques du Plessis rushed back to prevent the score but a double turnover at the subsequent ruck saw Toulon go wide and bulky wing Joshua Tuisova had an easy run-in for a 14-6 lead at the turn.
With the lead and all the momentum in their favour, Toulon pulled away at the start of the second half with a 10-point haul when Ma’a Nonu broke a couple of tackles to score before sharpshooter Halfpenny added the conversion and a penalty.
Montpellier, whose forwards had been outplayed up to that point, suddenly wrestled back the ascendancy which benefited Australian recruit Jesse Mogg. The former Brumbies player scored a brace in the space of three minutes, although the second was from a rather fortuitous intercept. But again, place kicking let Montpellier down as first Catrakilis missed the conversion before Frans Steyn skewed a penalty attempt.
And when the opportunity to kick at goal at the other end presented itself for Halfpenny, after Bismarck du Plessis was penalised at the breakdown, the Welshman made no mistake with his final kick to seal Toulon’s fate and set up a final showdown between Mourad’s millions and bitter rival Jacky Lorenzetti’s millions in Barcelona next week.
Toulon – Tries: Joshua Tuisova, Ma’a Nonu. Conversion: Halfpenny. Penalties: Halfpenny (5).
Montpellier – Tries: Jesse Mogg (2). Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (2).
Toulon – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Joshua Tuisova, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Ma’a Monu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Jonathan Pelisse, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Fernández Lobbe, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Subs: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Romain Taofifenua, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Mathieu Bastareaud, 21 Delon Armitage, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Manasa Saulo.
Montpellier – 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Anthony Tuitavake, 11 Jesse Mogg, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Benoît Paillaugue, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Subs: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 19 Wian Liebenberg, 20 Nic White, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Marvin O’Connor, 23 Davit Kubriashvili.
Photo: Dave Winter/Getty Images