Toulon gave Jonny Wilkinson the perfect retirement present by getting their revenge on Castres for last year's Top 14 final loss, beating their rivals, 18-10, on Saturday in Paris to claim the French title.
Toulon dominated possession early and took the lead through a Wilkinson penalty after eight minutes. This fan has the Vine:
The lead wouldn't last long, however, as Castres turned their very first chance into a try through Maxwell Evans, after Rory Kockott seemed to have knocked the ball forward.
Toulon kept pushing forward and held the ball for the majority of the first half, but the champions' line held firm. Wilkinson closed the gap to just a single point with his second penalty of the match, after a great scrum from his teammates.
Kockott would answer with a penalty of his own just before the half-hour mark, but Wilkinson's close didn't fail either three minutes later, and Rugby Unplugged thought the English veteran looked very composed kicking in his last match:
Wilkinson then produced one of his signature drop-kicks with five minutes left to play before half-time, slotting home with his "weaker" right foot. The Financial Mail's Jon Cardinelli wasn't really surprised as Toulon took a 14-12 lead:
Meanwhile, in France, Wilkinson is kicking drop goals with his wrong foot...— Jon Cardinelli (@jon_cardinelli) May 31, 2014
Down 12-10, Kockott would have one more chance to restore Castres' one-point lead with a penalty, but he lost his footing on the Stade de France's pitch, sending his kick wide. As shared by BT Sport Rugby, Wilkinson was making the most of his final match for Toulon:
Three penalties and a drop goal from @JonnyWilkinson see Toulon lead Castres 12-10 at half-time in the Top 14 final. Live now on BT Sport 1.— BT Sport Rugby (@btsportrugby) May 31, 2014
As tight as the score was, Toulon seemed to be in control of the match for most of the first half, and Castres must have felt great about only being down by two points, taking advantage of a single gap in Toulon's defence to score the only try.
The second half brought much of the same early, Toulon controlling the scrum and pushing forward without trying to do too much. Wilkinson's fifth successful kick made it 15-10 after 55 minutes, as things were looking good for the Heineken Cup winners.
Kockott had been in red-hot form coming into this match, but up against the legendary Wilkinson, he seemed to struggle on Saturday. His second miss on the night within minutes of a beautiful kick from Wilkinson prompted the London Evening Standard's Chris Jones to come to the scrumhalf's defence:
Kockott misses second pen for Castres because he is human— chris jones (@chrisjones51) May 31, 2014
Castres tried to push forward but ran into scrum problems as Toulon kept dominating that aspect of the match, and the defending champions soon started to show signs of frustration. Possession had shifted toward Castres, however, and the final 20 minutes looked like they would promise fireworks.
But for all of their forward momentum, Toulon handled Castres fairly easily, and when Delon Armitage made it 18-10 with a long penalty, the match appeared to be over. Satres now needed a try as well as a penalty, and the Heineken Cup champions hadn't given away any space defensively for all of the second half.
Five minutes later, the final horn sounded, and Wilkinson was able to celebrate for the final time.
Wilkinson told the BBC he wasn't thinking too much about playing his final match, as his mindset had always been to approach every match as if it was his last:
It's a relatively simple mindset because it's been the same throughout my career.
I've always only ever worried about and concerned myself with the game that's coming.
Coming to the end of my career, it's emotional but it doesn't change anything.
I've deliberately kept it that way, kept it simple and enjoyed the fact that the words of saying 'you play every game like it's your last' will be true this time.
Wilkinson will take a position with Toulon's coaching staff next season, as the soft French climate has done wonders for the knees of the English fly-half.
The future of the new French champions' kicking game seems safe, however, with Armitage showing the Top 14 his tremendous range on the team's final penalty.