Saracens v Toulon: Breaking Down How Toulon Won the Heineken Cup

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2014

Saracens v Toulon: Breaking Down How Toulon Won the Heineken Cup

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    Toulon made it back-to-back European Cups in Cardiff on Saturday as they claimed the last ever Heineken Cup.

    Tries from Matt Giteau and Juan Smith, along with 13 points from that man Jonny Wilkinson, made it a thoroughly one-sided 23-6 victory.

    In a match that will not live long in the memory for thrills and spills, Wilkinson left every English rugby fan with a stark reminder of how he can control a game with his cool head and trusty boot.

    Here’s how Toulon made it two in a row.

Beating the Blitz

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    Saracen’s rush defence has become known as the wolf pack for their relentless pressure, but their in-your-face approach was outsmarted by Toulon.

    It was evident in both the French tries. The first saw a quick change of direction from Jonny Wilkinson to switch the play from left to right, and a crafty kick in behind from Matt Giteau that the Australian chased and collected once it had been brilliantly fielded by Drew Mitchell.

    Once Saarcens had committed to close Wilkinson down, his fast switch of the point of attack left them exposed.

    For Juan Smith’s try, Wilkinson again sparked the opening by rushing of a pass as he was hit, leaving Mathieu Bastareaud with space to attack and set Smith up to exchange passes with Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe and bury Saracens for good.

Massive Defence

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    Juan Smith, Bastareaud, Bakkies Botha, made bruising hits in defence that almost bullied Saracens when they had the ball.

    Saracens had no answer to the red brick wall in front of them, and when they went to ground, they had the turnover machine that was Steffon Armitage clamping himself over the ball. Armitage was magnificent all afternoon and may well have given the watching England coach Stuart Lancaster cause to reconsider his policy of ignoring players based overseas.

More Brain, as Well as Brawn

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    The muscle possessed by Toulon is obvious, and it was a huge factor in thwarting anything Saracens tried. But one of the clearest differences between the sides was also in their key decision making positions.

    The combination of Wilkinson and Giteau at No. 10 and No. 12.

    Their link-up for Toulon’s first try was evident and it showed an area where Toulon were far ahead of Saracens.

    Owen Farrell showed flashes of his emerging all-round game, but outside him, he had no one of the rugby intelligence and invention of Giteau.