Toulon hoped to reproduce the old glorious days of Jonny Wilkinson and company, but it was Lyon who appeared with the Challenge Cup on a hot night in the south of France. This is the first European title ever claimed by the upcoming Top 14 side and, with their confidence now bolstered, it probably won’t be the last.
They may have won by an even wider margin, having been denied at least three more possible first-half attempts, but were still good enough to turn a slim 10-7 halftime lead into a 20-point cushion before the start of the. final quarter. Lyon coach Pierre Mignoni is ironically returning to Toulon this summer and will hope that this result has a properly galvanizing effect on the losers.
As an occasion it proved to be a slightly mixed aperitif for the main event involving Leinster and La Rochelle. Toulon may have seen off Saracens in some style in the semi-finals but, with their international winger Gabin Villière forced away prematurely with a knee injury, they could not call for anything like the same enthusiasm and inspiration.
It was, even so, another indicator of the growing appetite for big rugby events in France. The crowd of over 51,000 was a record turnout for the World Cup final and, amid the spills and occasional thrills, there were a few more reminders for the watching Eddie Jones that Les Bleus will take some beating at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Jones and his assistant coaches were also on a scout mission to check the ground, where England may play a quarter-final. If this steep, curved arena is even half noisy and atmospheric without the absence of Toulon fan supporters, it will be special regardless of the weather.
The temperature was still rising by about 26 degrees Celsius on the 21st local time when the game started, but it was Lyon who initially kept the cooler heads. Only a late shot on goal in the build-up prevented Baptiste Couilloud from scoring with just a minute left and the melee half had a legal try on the board after eight minutes.
The great Sergio Parisse longed for another trophy to crown a remarkable career but, unfortunately for him, his pass found his opposite number Jordan Taufua, once from Leicester. The Lyon captain sprang away and also had the presence of mind, when tackled, to blow the ball off the floor to support Couilloud.
A sluggish Toulon, however, woke up and their own international melee half, Baptiste Serin, began and ended a convincing move that dragged his side back into the contest. Nerves then seemed to limit both teams for a while before the first 40 minutes ended in dramatic circumstances when young Georgian winger Davit Niniashvili appeared to have put Lyon, already 10-7 ahead, ahead with a try just before the interval.
On closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the tip of his left boot touched the death row line, a sharp-eyed decision that could prevent English TMO’s Ian Tempest from spending a holiday in the Burgundy region this summer. There was already some Lyon murmuring at the decision not to review a possible attempt by Charlie Ngatai, with Aymeric Luc’s alleged in-goal ground of the ball not fully supported by the video index.
Lyon’s fortunes, however, were about to change. Between the 45th and 50th minutes they collected 14 invaluable points, the first of which was a well-deserved penalty when Luc was blamed for the most obvious of last-year slaps on the cheek that denied Niniashvili, assuming he had legally dropped it. sometimes. , a certain score. Against 14 men the powerful Joshua Tuisova made good ground and the well-judged chip of Léo Berdeu fell beautifully for his center Pierre-Louis Barassi.
Another Berdeu penalty extended the lead further, effectively extinguishing Toulon’s hopes of joining Wasp, Bath, Northampton and Leinster and becoming the first French side to make the Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup “double”. Despite a final quarter-yellow card for Berdeu and Ngatai and a late consolation attempt for the otherwise quiet Cheslin Kolbe, there should have been no penalty for Toulon, beaten in the 2010, 2012 and 2020 World Cup finals and now required to deal with another frustrating one. show loss.