Heineken Cup final: Toulon give Jonny Wilkinson part one of dream send-off
Last Updated: 24/05/14 7:48pm
Jonny Wilkinson hoists aloft the Heineken Cup
Toulon retained the Heineken Cup with a 23-6 victory over Saracens at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
Jonny Wilkinson was immaculate with the boot as he kicked 13 points in his final game on British soil and the World Cup-winning fly-half can complete a dream finale to his career with a first victory in France's Top 14 final against Castres next week.
Owen Farrell nudged Saracens ahead with a second-minute penalty from a scrum offence, but missed a chance to double the lead after Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was yellow-carded for tackling Alistair Hargreaves in the air.
Toulon crossed for the first try of the game when down to 14 men, Matt Giteau kicking forward before being put in by a return pass from the leaping Drew Mitchell.
A Wilkinson drop-goal stretched the lead to 10-3 at the half, but Farrell cut the arrears with an early penalty after the break.
Wilkinson's penalty re-established the seven-point lead before a powerful burst from Mathieu Bastareaud set up a try for Juan Smith.
Wilkinson converted for the second time and sent over another penalty to push Toulon out of sight.
Wilkinson, who celebrates his 35th birthday on Sunday, will bow out of the game as a double Heineken Cup winner as Toulon emulated Leicester and Leinster in being crowned European champions for a second successive season.
Saracens, bidding to become the fifth different English club to be crowned European champions, struck an initial blow through a third-minute Farrell penalty, but Toulon asked immediate questions via some slick handling.
Given how high the stakes were, there was an understandable caution from both teams, but Toulon appeared a dangerous attacking outfit despite little initial contribution by Wilkinson.
Toulon, though, were their own worst enemies as Fernandez Lobbe was shown a yellow card following a high challenge on Saracens lock Hargreaves, but it remained 3-0 entering the second quarter of a tense battle.
Toulon eventually stirred 10 minutes before half-time when a Wilkinson pass freed Giteau, whose kick ahead was superbly gathered by wing Mitchell, and his inside ball sent supporting Giteau scampering over.
Wilkinson inevitably kicked the touchline conversion, hoisting Toulon 7-3 ahead as the clock ticked down on a first-half that lacked sustained quality, then added a trademark drop-goal with his right boot.
The game was largely a frustrating stop-start affair and offered little fluidity from both the players and referee Alain Rolland, while the atmosphere - or lack of it - matched a disappointing occasion.
Toulon looked to build on their advantage and they had plenty of strength on the bench as locks Ali Williams and Jocelino Suto appeared with 30 minutes of the contest still remaining.
And it was the cue for Toulon to finish Saracens off via a move that owed everything to centre Bastareaud's surging midfield power.
Saracens could not contain him and his approach play resulted in Smith and Fernandez Lobbe linking expertly, before Smith finished off a sparkling move.
Wilkinson converted and then kicked a penalty to leave Saracens with no way back as France ended 19 seasons of Heineken Cup rugby as the tournament's dominant nation above England and Ireland.
Saracens will feel deeply frustrated that they could make little impact on the contest, but with Wilkinson pulling Toulon's strings, the French club held a vice-like grip on second-half proceedings.
The result proved a hammer-blow for Saracens yet they could have no complaints on a day when they were given a clear lesson in how to win big games when pressure was at its most intense.
And Wilkinson received a standing ovation when he departed three minutes from time, his job done and Toulon ready to enjoy riotous celebrations.
Heineken Cup final 2013/14
Steffon Armitage named ERC European Player of the Year on Monday just days after helping Toulon win the Heineken Cup.
England should make exception to overseas-based player policy for Steffon Armitage, says team-mate Bryan Habana.
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe does not feel there is any point trying to get Jonny Wilkinson to play on.
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