Toulon pip La Rochelle to reach Top14 final
Last Updated: 26/05/17 11:34pm
A drop goal from Anthony Belleau with the last kick of the game gave Toulon a come-from-behind 18-15 win over 14-man La Rochelle to reach the French Top 14 final on Friday.
Toulon will face either defending champions Racing 92 or Clermont, who meet Saturday, in the final in Paris on June 4.
In a tense semi-final played in front of 65,000 people at the Stade Velodrome, the match turned in the 50th minute when La Rochelle, who were leading 15-6 and comfortably placed, were reduced to 14 men.
Centre Pierre Aguillon was red carded for a dangerous tackle on Toulon's James O'Connor which left the Australian star falling head first into the turf.
Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who scored 15 of his team's points in a tense game where neither side managed a try, slotted over three quick penalties to level the semi-final at 15-15.
But a weary La Rochelle, who had finished the regular season on top of the table and were bidding for a first place in the final, had their chances to seal victory.
Zack Holmes, having replaced fellow Australian Brock James, had two shots from the halfway line but his first penalty fell just inches short while the second drifted wide.
Toulon seized their chance and after a series of gruelling forward charges which inched towards the La Rochelle line, 21-year-old Belleau kept his nerve to pop over the winning drop kick after the hooter had sounded.
It was a shattering disappointment for La Rochelle who were only promoted to the top flight three years ago as well as 35-year-old fly-half James who kicked all of his team's points.
However, the win means that the likes of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Juanne Smith, who all leave at the end of the season, have one more match left to play for Toulon.