Toulon V Castres: Score and Lessons Learned from Top 14 Final
Jonny Wilkinson, plying in his last game before retirement, kicked all his side’s points to steer the Heineken Cup champions to a second trophy in seven days.
With the French title, Wilkinson rubber stamps his legacy as England’s finest ever fly-half and one of the world’s greatest players.
This was a victory founded on Toulon’s uncompromising defensive muscle and secured with the unerring boot of one of the best goal kickers the game has ever produced.
Here’s how Toulon did it.
It was an area highlighted in our B/R preview, and it proved crucial yet again for the men in red.
Toulon suffocated Castres to produce the penalties Wilkinson kicked them into the lead with.
And when Castres had to start chancing their arm late on, their runners got isolated, and they were gobbled up by Juan Smith, Steffon Armitage and Co.
If a side this good gets on top of you at the breakdown, you will struggle to get hold of a game.
The Red Wall
Max Evans’ first-half try apart, Castres never found a way through the granite-like defence Toulon erected.
They looked devoid of ideas and never seemed as though they would produce the individual brilliance required to unlock Bernard Laporte’s men.
In many ways, this was a game stifled by both sides’ fear of losing, but Toulon had the confidence that comes with a world-class goal kicker in form and a defence so well organized and manned by such huge men as Juan Smith and Mathieu Bastareaud.
That Man. Again.
At 15-10 late in the game, the difference between the two sides had been one goal kicker who had nailed his shots and one who had fluffed two of his.
Last season, Rory Kockott was the kicker with the upper hand. This time, with the last grains of sand draining away on his illustrious career, Jonny Wilkinson made sure he was the man who decided matters in his team’s favour.
Delon Armitage may have taken over responsibility to hammer home that last long-range shot, but it was Wilkinson who had won this match. He deserved the right to go out in such fashion, and he earned it.