Lyon dominate Toulon to claim maiden European Challenge Cup title

·4-min read

New Zealanders Jordan Taufua and Charles Ngatai were at the heart of a tough-as-teak Lyon defence that helped the Top 14 team to its first European title with a comprehensive 30-12 victory over Toulon in the Challenge Cup final on Friday.

Lyon led 10-7 at half-time thanks to Baptiste Couilloud's try converted by Leo Berdeu, who also bagged a penalty. Baptiste Serin crossed for Toulon's try, Louis Carbonel hitting the extras.

Lyon turned the screw in the second-half, with a penalty try followed by a try for Pierre-Louis Barassi with Toulon's Aymeric Luc in the sinbin. Cheslin Kolbe crossed for a late consolation try, but by then Berdeu and Ngatai had each hit a penalty to condemn Toulon to a fourth Challenge Cup final defeat.

Taufua said his team had been "after a performance we could be proud of and I thought we did that tonight.

"Championships are won on defence and the boys stepped up."

Toulon coach Franck Azema said Lyon had produced a "great performance". "Rugby is a pressure game and we yielded to the pressure.

"They were better in just about everything."

Fans had barely got comfortable before Couilloud gathered a Ngatai chip and streaked over, but referee Luke Pearce ruled the try out because of an earlier knock-on by Lyon captain Taufua.

Taufua's barn-storming start to the match, however, got just desserts in the eighth minute when he intercepted a pass by Italy veteran Sergio Parisse and surged towards the Toulon tryline.

The defence managed to bring him down, but the former Samoa and New Zealand under-20 representative popped up a delicious offload that Couilloud took without breaking stride for the opening try.

Berdeu kicked the conversion despite the deafening whistles from the massed ranks of Toulon fans.

Toulon reacted as they would have wanted, enjoying their first period of sustained pressure, Serin eventually crashing over from short range with the Lyon defence in tatters.

- Impressive Ngatai -

Carbonel booted the extras, but Berdeu restored Lyon's lead after Toulon were penalised for a high tackle.

One-cap All Black centre Ngatai, who is due to join Leinster at the end of the season, seemingly went close as he ran on to his own grubber through, but referee Pearce wasn't even tempted to go to the television match official.

Toulon roared back up the pitch, the ball was worked wide to Fiji's Olympics sevens gold medallist Jiuta Wainiqolo and only a double tackle from Toby Arnold and Josua Tuisova prevented a try.

Berdeu shanked a straightforward second penalty just before half-time, and if that was not bad enough, Lyon's teenage Georgian winger Davit Niniashvili had a try disallowed after his effort to go in under the posts saw his boot just nick the deadball line.

Toulon proceded to suffer a shocking start to the second period, full-back Aymeric Luc yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on of an Arnold pass that would have seen Niniashvili in the clear: a situation that left the referee with no option but to also award a penalty try.

Just a minute later, Tuisova broke up his right wing and fed Berdeu who put in a delicate grubber that Barassi gathered for Lyon's third try, the fly-half also converting.

Toulon spurned two shots at goal, opting instead for an attacking scrum, but Lyon responded with vigour to win their own penalty on the second set-piece.

With the temperature at the Stade Velodrome, home to French Ligue 1 club Marseille, hovering around 29 degrees Celsius (84F), fatigue kicked in and a raft of replacements disrupted the rhythm of the game, played out in front of a new Challenge Cup record of 51,431 spectators.

With less than 20 minutes to go, Berdeu was shown yellow for an illegal tackle, handing Toulon a possible route back into the match.

But Ngatai, who also got a late yellow card, closed down options in midfield and English lock Joel Kpoku became increasingly conspicuous in close quarters, nullifying the threat from the likes of South African World Cup winner Kolbe.

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