The Final I Wanted to See

Posted: May 3, 2015 in European Rugby
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A lot had been said in the build up to this year’s newly formatted Champions Cup final. People stated their dislike of the fact Toulon were not only in the final, but going for three-in-a-row. An understandable thought. I, too, feel they are ruining the European competition by simply buying the trophy.

Gone are the days when average players formed a well organised, well drilled team. In are the days when a team of individuals can outdo their opposite man from one to 15. Everyone would like to see their own team in the final, and are angered that Toulon’s financial power are putting an end to that.

I was annoyed that Munster got such a tough group, and annoyed that they failed to reach European knockout stages for the first time in 17 years. But I did want to see the best players in Europe on show for the final, and that’s what Saturday delivered.

The skills were on show from the first minute, when a two on two became a mismatch when Abendonen rounded one Toulon defender, drew another and delivered a perfect one-handed pass to Nalaga to send him on his way. Granted, Nalaga should have made more of it, but what a start.

Drew Mitchell’s deciding try was simply sublime. The Clermont defense did miss six tackles, but the strength and guile of Mitchell is not to be knocked. Thanks to the ARU’s new rules regarding caps and service to Australian rugby, we should definitely be treated to Mitchell and Giteau on the world stage later this year.

So good were the players on show that three mistakes were punished with 100% effectiveness, with two of the three cost Clermont the game.

Abendonen had a fine game. Given the financial power of Clermont it was strange to see him being signed, but he seems to be a good fit with the players of Stade Michelin. But his actions at the end of the first half were naive and foolhardy. With the chance to finish the half two points ahead of the best club side in the world, he chooses to play from outside his 22. He tries a chip, but doesn’t retrieve. There’s no defensive line as his teammates thought he was going to clear, and Bastareau goes over in the corner for Halfpenny to convert. A silly mistake punished completely by great play. Wilkinson said turning his back and kicking the ball dead would have shown fear-I think it would have been the right call.

The next mistake came from Noa Nakaitaci. Turning to catch a ball, he drops it, and after it bounces to touch he throws it away from Habana in frustration. A clear penalty that gave Halfpenny, one of the best kickers of a dead ball in world rugby, another chance for three points. What’s worse is Nakaitaci did everything right: he chased back, was in position, and turned his body rather than risk a knock on. His mistake of indiscipline was out of sheer frustration, and was punished by the best goal kicker in Europe.

Clermont went from leading by two points just before half time to losing by 8 after 50 minutes. Two mistakes, two scores for Toulon.

The third mistake came from Habana’s poor clearance and Toulon’s defence failing to notice Halfpenny had chased. This led to Abendonen’s chip and chase try. He ran the ball back, easily evaded a slip-off tackle and chipped and scored so easily it seemed like the game had been stopped momentarily. Extraordinary finishing from a simple mistake, and also making up for his foolish mistake earlier.

Perhaps the game would have also been different had Brock James started ten. He would have directed the game better and added more structure than the off the cuff Lopez. But on the other hand, how many games has he lost his nerve in in the past? Not to mention the game would have also been dead and buried had Parra been called offside for the block for Fofana’s try and had Ali Williams been awarded a try for a fingertip touch down. On such fine measures are finals won.

The final of a European cup should have the best players in Europe on show. Yesterday was case and point. Three mistakes being punished with perfect execution, along with Mitchell’s masterclass in broken field running, is proof.

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