Rugby Union

Toulon retain the Heineken Cup after victory over Saracens

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Toulon became only the third team in history to successfully retain the Heineken Cup after a comfortable 23-6 victory over an underwhelming Saracens at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Led by the enigmatic figure of captain Jonny Wilkinson - who was contesting his final game on British soil before retirement - and entering their fourth European final in five years, Toulon were dominant throughout under a closed roof and took victory thanks to the reliable boot of England's former number 10 and two very special tries from Matt Giteau and Juan Smith.

Saracens wing Chris Ashton set the tone for an extremely physical evening with a heavy late hit on Juan Fernandez Lobbe, the Argentine knocking on with his very first touch of the game.

Toulon were punished by referee Alain Rolland from the subsequent scrum, with Owen Farrell knocking over the penalty to given Saracens an early 3-0 lead.

Rolland - taking charge of his last European fixture and his third Heineken Cup final overall - was proving strict at the set-piece, warning the respective front rows on numerous occasions and clearly not willing to tolerate any prolonged stoppages. 

Toulon gave away another penalty after 11 minutes with hands in the ruck, but the French outfit were handed a reprieve as Marcelo Bosch's long effort fell well short.

An opportunistic charge down from South African hooker Craig Burden following an attempted clearance from Saracens scrum half Richard Wigglesworth looked to present Sebastien Tillous-Borde with a chance to put Toulon ahead, but the ball tumbled out of play before he had an opportunity to touch down.

Farrell missed a drop-goal attempt three minutes later but had another chance to keep the scoreboard ticking over soon after when Lobbe was deservedly sent to the bin for a foolish attempt to bring down Alistair Hargreaves as the pair challenged under the high ball.

Under pressure to perform given the attention surrounding his compatriot and illustrious opposite number, Farrell looked on in disappointment as his kick sailed harmlessly to the left of the posts.

Clear-cut try-scoring opportunities were at a premium during a gritty and physical first half, but Toulon finally went ahead after a fantastic passage of play from veteran centre Giteau.

Having received possession from Wilkinson, the Australian chipped a menacing kick into Saracens' 22. The ball bounced nicely for the onrushing Drew Mitchell, who proceeded to invite contact and offload to the supporting Giteau for a try that was successfully converted by Wilkinson. 

Ashton endeavoured to find a quick response, but Toulon lock Bakkies Botha was on hand to snuff out any chance of a swift reply.

Toulon then edged further ahead two minutes before the break. A powerful driving maul led by the formidable figure of man of the match Steffon Armitage burrowed its way into the 22, with the composed figure of Wilkinson on hand to supply three more points from a wonderfully-measured drop goal.

An absorbing if somewhat scrappy opening 40 ended on somewhat of a panicked note from Saracens, with Brad Barritt tossing the ball out of play just outside his own 22 under enormous pressure.

The Aviva Premiership finalists showed more intent to begin the second half, Farrell bouncing back to pull his side within four with a simple penalty that resulted from loosehead Xavier Chiocci's inept showing at the scrum.

Toulon made several replacements with the obvious intention to reinforce their pack and were gifted the opportunity to go further in front when Billy Vunipola was penalised for not releasing the ball. Wilkinson stepped up to negotiate a difficult 55th minute kick to extend the advantage to 13-6.

Despite their best efforts, Saracens just could not seem to piece together any sort of dangerous attack that would have Bernard Laporte's expensive team worried, and Toulon worked another fabulous try on the hour mark.

Wilkinson offloaded to the monstrous Mathieu Bastareaud just inside the Toulon half and the French centre powered his way down the right-hand side before offloading to Smith. 

The Flanker then exchanged passes with Lobbe and went over the line to a rapturous response from the hoards of noisy Toulon supporters. Wilkinson, a clear favourite with both sets of fans, safely provided another conversion.

Saracens were being overpowered and totally outwitted by this stage, with Farrell giving Wilkinson further chance to put daylight between the two teams after obstructing Bryan Habana as he broke through the middle.

Habana's reaction was slightly theatrical, it must be said, but Rolland made the right decision to give the penalty and Wilkinson secured another three points and had seemingly put the result beyond any doubt.

Saracens were camped on the edge of their own tryline for the final 10 minutes, Toulon eager to further impose their superiority. Wilkinson received a standing ovation as he left the field, clearly the winner of his personal duel with Farrell.

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