14-man Racing 92 beat Toulon to be crowned Top 14 champions
Last Updated: 24/06/16 10:38pm
Racing 92 overcame the sending off of Maxime Machenaud to beat Toulon 29-21 to be crowned Top 14 champions.
It was Racing's first title since 1990 but it looked next to impossible after scrum-half Machenaud was sent off in the 18th minute for a dangerous tackle on Matt Giteau.
However with winger Juan Imhoff stepping into the No 9 role and the boot of Dan Carter and Johan Goosen, Racing clawed their way back into the game. Winger Joe Rokocoko scored a special try and managed to hang on despite some intense pressure from Toulon in the final ten minutes.
The match was played in front of over 90,000 fans in Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium as the Stade de France was out of bounds for Euro 2016 soccer duty and there was little between the teams in the early exchanges.
Racing, beaten in the European Champions Cup by England's Saracens last month, were level at 3-3 after 18 minutes before the red card for Machenaud swung momentum firmly Toulon's way.
After trailing 14-12 at the break, however, Racing produced a magnificent display to regain control of the game and secure a famous victory.
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, fast-tracked back into the team after a serious knee injury, landed three early penalties for Toulon and when Mamuka Gorgodze charged over for the opening try to make it 14-6 the game looked all over.
Racing, however, refused to read the script and, showing admirable discipline, continued to attack and forced Toulon into conceding a succession of penalties that Dan Carter and South African centre Johan Goosen turned into points.
Toulon struggled to make their extra man count and Racing stretched their lead to 26-14 after an hour when former New Zealand winger Rokocoko caught his own chip ahead for their first try.
Toulon hit back when centre Maxime Mermoz slipped through a gap in a ruck to make it 26-21 going into the final eight minutes and the odds looked to be against the tiring Racing.
Toulon earned a penalty in front of the posts with three minutes remaining but opted for a scrum and the decision backfired when the referee penalised them at the set-piece.
Racing then broke and forced their own penalty which Carter slotted over to clinch a famous victory.
"It's an amazing feeling, it's been the most special season on my life and the way we did it with 14 men," said Carter, who helped New Zealand to World Cup glory in October but limped out injured during the European Cup final defeat by Saracens.
"I don't know how we did it but I'm so relieved," he added.
"It's never easy playing with 14 men. There are some pretty tired boys out there but there is a huge satisfaction in winning."