Aussie exiles issue World Cup warning in Toulon triumph
Toulon 24 Clermont 18
The prospect of a repeat Wallaby wonder show at Twickenham in five months' time nagged at the thoughts of thousands of neutrals in the 56,622 crowd as they drifted out of the World Cup host stadium on Saturday night.
They had witnessed a Drew Mitchell-Matt Giteau masterclass that helped Toulon record an historic third successive European title.
Mitchell's jagging try 10 minutes from time, the Australian wing leaving six hapless Clermont Auvergne defenders in his wake, sealed the deal for the moneyed men from the Cote d'Azur, a fittingly fine try to cap a compelling match.
Previous all-French finals have been clogged and downbeat, yet this face-off between the Top 14's pre-eminent teams had spice and vitality, as well as bearing the imprint of Toulon's muscular presence. Their percussive boom-boom style eventually wore down the spirited opposition.
However, there was light to go with the dark, most often provided by the two Australians in their ranks, Giteau forever sharp and alert, and Mitchell doing what he did to such telling effect.
It was a timely and pointed reminder to Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika that not only are these two decorated stars of the Australian game now available for World Cup action following the policy about-turn by their union last week, but that they are also in shape to step up to Test level.
There has been no contact yet between the various parties but there is no doubt the change of heart had such talent in mind.
Giteau, 32, would relish the opportunity to pull on the Wallaby jersey again.
He came to Toulon four years ago after being snubbed by the then Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans, for the 2011 World Cup.
Giteau has played in two World Cups, on home soil in 2003 and in France four years later, and would love a return to Twickenham in September and October for a crack at England and Wales in Pool A of the 2015 event.
"If I am fortunate to get selected, I would be just as proud to try and help the young players along," he said.
So much nonsense is spouted about Toulon as if they were just a gang of roving mercenaries picking up easy pay-cheques. As this performance demonstrated, you cannot fake the depth of spirit that resides in this team.
Clermont's former England full-back Nick Abendanon had the sort of topsy-turvy game that has been his hallmark, part brilliant, as he showed with his delicate, perceptive chip-and-gather try midway through the second half that set up such a nerve-jangling finale, and part flawed.
There were a couple of notable defensive bloopers at Twickenham, not kicking out to touch at the end of the first half, an error that invited a storming run-back from Toulon No 8 Chris Masoe that was eventually rounded off by Mathieu Bastareaud, and then being one of the culprits in missing a tackle on Mitchell.
"It was devastating and those errors were costly," said Abendanon, who had opened up the left flank with a deft one-handed offload for Wesley Fofana's first try for Clermont.
That early promise did not produce the desired yield, Clermont falling at the final hurdle once more. Toulon have mastered that trick, champions of Europe yet again, and deservedly so.
Meanwhile, when asked yesterday about potential new signings Paul O'Connell and Duane Vermeulen, Toulon's owner Mourad Boudjellal said that "one of the two will be at Toulon" next season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Toulon - Halfpenny; Mitchell, Bastareaud, J Hernandez, (Wulf 66) Habana; Giteau, Tillous-Borde; Chiocci (Menini 48), Guirado (Orioli 63), Hayman (Chilachava 63), Botha (Taofifenua 47), Williams, J Smith (Fernandez Lobbe 58), S Armitage, Masoe.
Clermont Auvergne - Abendanon; Nakaitaci (Delany 67), Davies, Fofana, Nalaga (Rougerie 54); Lopez, Parra (Radosavljevic 56); Debaty (Domingo 47), Kayser (Ulugia 63), Zirakashvili (Ric 66), Cudmore, Vahaamahina (Pierre 67), Bonnaire, Chouly, Lee (Bardy 54).
Ref - N Owens (Wales).