Rugby: Wilkinson haul helps Toulon nail spot in final

The first half of the game was a kicking competition between Jonny Wilkinson, above, and his opposite Ian Keatley. Photo / Dean Purcell
The first half of the game was a kicking competition between Jonny Wilkinson, above, and his opposite Ian Keatley. Photo / Dean Purcell

Holders Toulon reached the European Cup rugby final with a 24-16 defeat of two-time winners Munster in a pulsating encounter in Marseille yesterday.

Former England great Jonny Wilkinson scored 21 of his side's points while Munster - appearing in a record 11th semifinal - scored the only try of the match through Simon Zebo.

Toulon will play English side Saracens, who thrashed last season's finalists Clermont 46-6 24 hours earlier, in the final at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on May 24.

The first half turned into a kicking competition between Wilkinson and his opposite Ian Keatley.

The former England international landing four penalties and the Irishman converting three from three opportunities.

Wilkinson also landed a dropped goal while compatriot Delon Armitage converted a superb long range effort on the stroke of half-time from just inside the Toulon half.

The Irish province had only themselves to blame for going in behind, for apart from a series of mistakes they also failed to take advantage of referee Wayne Barnes reducing the hosts to 14 men in the 29th minute.

The Englishman, after consulting with the television match official, decided to sin bin Argentinian Juan Fernandez-Lobbe for unintentional raking of a Munster opponent.

Toulon came out firing in the second half and it took a superb tackle from Ireland wing Zebo to deny Armitage's brother, Steffon, a try - the No8's foot going into touch before he touched down over the goalline.

Munster were under real pressure as Toulon's South African wing Bryan Habana started to sparkle with some penetrating runs through the centre.

The close escapes provoked the Irish into finally launching an attack of their own and it resulted in a try for Zebo.

Halfback Conor Murray peeled off a ruck and fed Zebo who used his momentum to take himself and his opposite Drew Mitchell over the line.

Despite Toulon believing Steffon Armitage had got back to prevent Zebo grounding the ball, the controversial Barnes gave the try without referring it to the TMO.

Keatley converted brilliantly from the left hand touchline to bring Munster to within two points of the hosts.

Munster crucially turned down two kickable penalty chances.

However two further Wilkinson penalties sealed the victory, the second with two minutes left.

- AFP

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