Toulon 25-16 Saracens: Gabin Villiere puts on a masterclass to knock out Owen Farrell and Co and end English involvement in the European Challenge Cup, setting up an all-French final with Lyon
- Toulon beat Saracens 25-16 to reach the Challenge Cup final against Lyon
- The all-French final will take place at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 28
- Gabin Villiere scored two tries to edge Toulon 15-13 ahead at half-time
- Fiji international Jiuta Wainiqolo scored the all-important third try for Toulon
They have been waiting a long time for a new hero here in Toulon. The galactico generation have been and gone.
Rugby has been in recession and the local restaurants have not found any jerseys worthy of replacing those of Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Castrogiovanni.
But last night, in a blood and thunder contest, their action man winger Gabin Villiere announced his rugby royalty status with two tries to end Saracens’ Challenge Cup campaign.
Fijian winger Jiuta Wainiqolo scored a wonder-try for Toulon to clinch semi-final victory
Louis Carbonel also played an important role for Toulon in their 25-16 win against Saracens
They have missed these big European nights at the Stade Mayol. At times, it felt like the clock had been turned back.
Before kick off, the road that loops around the stadium was at gridlock. Cars peeped their horns in support, songs boomed around the port and supporters climbed on top of bus shelters for the best view of the team’s arrival.
They set off flares, turning the road into a tunnel of red light. It felt more like a Tyson Fury ring walk.
In their first meeting for six years, Saracens started with authority. Their kicking blueprint was clear to see, with Max Malins and Theo McFarland claiming early high balls.
They marched their way into Toulon territory, asserting their dominance, but were suddenly hit by an early sucker punch.
It ended in disappointment for Saracens head coach Mark McCall as his side crashed out
Aled Davies had his pocket picked at the ruck and the hosts struck. Baptiste Serin hoofed the ball all the way down the left flank, with Louis Carbonel giving chase.
The first wave of attack fell just short but, three minutes in, Carbonel and Sergio Parisse’s loop play set up Gabin Villiere for a box-office one-handed finish.
The atmosphere quickly reached boiling point. Complaints about a knee drop on Vincent Koch were picked up over the microphone and, after a late tackle on Alex Goode, Owen Farrell kicked his side’s first points.
Ill-discipline crept into the Toulon game and the cheers quickly turned to jeers. Farrell struck the post with his second penalty but there was a silver lining.
Toulon jubilantly celebrated making it to the all-French Challenge Cup final against Lyon
Toulon’s Charles Ollivon enjoyed celebrating with the fans after securing a spot in the final
Charles Ollivon and Serin hesitated with their exit play, allowing Ben Earl an extra millisecond to charge down the clearance kick. His relentless workrate was rewarded with a try to give Saracens the lead after 16 minutes.
There were headline duels all over the field. Renewing their old rivalry, Eben Etzebeth took out Maro Itoje’s arm at a lineout, gifting Farrell another three points.
Soon after, Farrell was reprimanded for shouting at referee Andrew Brace, as Saraens suffered their own shortfalls.
Recent Toulon teams would have caved in but the hosts kept coming. Carbonel narrowed the deficit with a penalty from a scrum. And in the final play of the half, Toulon ran back Farrell’s clearance kick from deep in their own half.
Their backline combined down the right wing, sucking in the Saracens defence to leave an overlap down the left. A few slick passes later, Villiere touched down.
Jamie George led Saracens off the pitch after the disappointment of not making the final
Elliot Daly missed the chance to snatch back the lead with a long-distance penalty. Etzebeth was a thorn in the side of the Saracens lineout and play quickly moved to the opposite end of the field.
Villiere won a turnover penalty within kicking distance and, unlike Daly, Carbonel hit the target.
Saracens were gifted three more points after an overcooked kick but they were soon hit by another thunderbolt.
Returning another kick, the ball reached the hands of Jiuta Wainiqolo. The winger beat Farrell on the outside, turned Davies inside out and then arced his run around Goode for a sensational try.
The comeback never looked like materialising. Saracens were uncharacteristic, dropping balls and subjected to maul turnovers, as Toulon came out on top in a rivalry renewed.