Toulouse 24-18 Clermont: Toulouse clinch Top 14 title at Stade de France
Toulouse claim first title since 2012, while Clermont suffer 24th final defeat in all competitions
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 16/06/19 6:57am
A brace of Yoann Huget tries - plus the boot of Thomas Ramos - secured Toulouse their first Top 14 title since 2012 courtesy of a 24-18 victory over Clermont at the Stade de France on Saturday.
A superior kicking game proved the genesis of Toulouse's victory - their 20th French Championship in history - with Clermont half-backs Camille Lopez and Greig Laidlaw struggling to adequately kick their side into positions of ascendancy.
Laidlaw did prove faultless with the boot off the tee - kicking 15 of Clermont's points via penalties, with Lopez adding another one - but the men from the Auvergne could not force a try.
Toulouse's Springbok full-back Cheslin Kolbe - who came up with two try assists - was sin-binned in the first half, but Clermont failed to take advantage as they suffered their 24th final loss in the club's history.
Inside the opening minute of the final, Toulouse tighthead Charlie Faumuina was penalised for side entry with his team in possession from the kick-off. Laidlaw made no mistake, curling over from distance for an early lead.
Clermont hooker Benjamin Kayser knocked on metres from his own line and gifted Toulouse a five-metre attacking scrum minutes later, but though Toulouse earned a kickable penalty when Etienne Falgoux came in at the side of an ensuing ruck, Ramos took it quickly, kicking cross-field in an attempt to find Huget, with Alivereti Raka just about dealing with it.
Ramos did level the final off the tee on eight minutes though, with Clermont caught offside after a miscued defensive Laidlaw box-kick.
On 13 minutes, Toulouse hooker Peato Mauvaka was caught offside as Laidlaw ran the ball, and the Scot made no mistake from just outside the 22, restoring Clermont's three-point advantage.
Again the lead did not last long, when after Toulouse flanker Rynhardt Elstadt smashed Clermont lock Sebastien Vahaamahina back, loosehead Falgoux was penalised for sealing off at the breakdown, and Ramos split the uprights to leave things 6-6.
The first try arrived on 28 minutes with Clermont caught narrow defensively, and when the ball landed in the hands of Kolbe, the Springbok proved exactly the right man to take advantage, sprinting into the space, sucking Raka in off the wing and passing on to Huget for a simple finish in the corner.
Seven minutes from the end of the first half, Kolbe was sin-binned for a tackle off the ball in his own 22 on Peceli Yato, with Fritz Lee having broken off a Toulouse lineout following an intercept. Laidlaw kicked over from close range to reduce the deficit to 11-9.
When Kolbe emerged back onto the pitch four minutes into the second half, Toulouse had not conceded again though - their two-point lead remaining intact.
Indeed, it was Toulouse who would register the next points in the game as Clermont loosehead Falgoux was again penalised at the breakdown, and Ramos tapped over from close range for 14-9.
That five-point margin would not last long as Toulouse centre Sofiane Guitoune was pinged for offside minutes later, with Laidlaw again stepping up to kick over the points.
Toulouse were denied a potential try by the TMO on 54 minutes, when footage proved inconclusive as to whether hooker Mauvaka had grounded the ball, but they didn't have to wait long to get over the whitewash again.
Attacking off the consequent scrum, Toulouse's backline clicked in thrilling fashion as Ramos flicked a ball off the deck, before Maxime Medard, Guitoune, Pita Ahki and Kolbe each made telling contributions as the ball was worked out to Huget for a fabulous score. When Ramos converted, the lead was nine points at 21-12.
Clermont chipped away at that lead on the hour mark as Laidlaw made superb contact with the boot from distance after Toulouse were caught offside.
A rampaging rolling maul saw Toulouse eke out more dominant yardage in the Clermont 22 - and a penalty - and when Clermont were pinged under their own posts for going off feet on advantage, Ramos kicked the penalty to restore a two-score lead.
Lopez kicked another penalty for Clermont inside the final 10 minutes to bring them back to within six points, but it wasn't to be for Franck Azema's charges, who were forced to accept another bitterly disappointing final day.
Clermont - French champions in 2010 and 2017 - now have a loss record in finals standing at 12 French Championship final defeats, three European Cup final defeats, one Challenge Cup final loss, six Challenge Yves du Manoir losses and two Coupe de France losses.
For Toulouse - who finished 12th in the Top 14 just two years ago - it was a richly deserved return to winning ways, having finished top of the pile at the end of the regular season and played some breath-taking rugby throughout.