Cardiff Blues seize on Jonny Wilkinson injury to overcome Toulon

Cardiff Blues 28-21 Toulon

Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson, left, leaves the field because of injury. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

The days when Jonny Wilkinson was regarded as indispensable to England may have gone, but seldom has the loss of one player had such a profound impact on the course of a match. This one ended with the Cardiff Blues becoming the first Welsh side to win a European trophy. Toulon were on top for the 49 minutes that the England fly-half was on the field but they fell apart after he was helped off, having collapsed as he tried to kick a penalty.

Wilkinson's attempt at a first injury-free season in eight years had failed at the last. He had been treated prior to the penalty attempt, after dummying a drop at goal and drifting past two defenders before being tackled by the Blues lock Deiniol Jones. Toulon, who were 13-6 ahead at that point, had spurned a kickable penalty when Juan Fernández Lobbe tapped the ball as Wilkinson was making his way for the shot at the posts. When the move ended with another Toulon penalty, Wilkinson duly took aim, after his lengthy treatment, from wide out on the right. He fell to the ground as he made contact with the ball.

The kick was narrowly wide and Wilkinson was helped off. Within four minutes the Blues were level, thanks to a Jamie Roberts try from a five-metre scrum that had been conceded by the centre Tom May, who had moved to fly-half in Wilkinson's absence. Although May kicked a penalty to restore Toulon's lead, the semblance of order Wilkinson had brought to a largely chaotic approach disintegrated and the Blues ran out comfortable winners.

Toulon had made nine changes from the side that lost to Clermont Auvergne in a Top 14 semi-final the previous weekend, largely, said their director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André, because so many of those left out had reported to work this week with sore heads. They will have a sore something else in the coming days, given the post-match remarks of the big-spending French club's less-than-amused owner, Mourad Boudjellal, who accused his team of not showing the Blues enough respect by turning down the chance of a routine penalty with the game still in the balance.

It was not so much the three points that hurt Toulon as the fact that it was the quickly-taken penalty that led to Wilkinson's injury. Until then he had played the role of a mother dog, keeping unruly puppies in some sort of order. Toulon broke the Blues' defence time and again, more than any other side this season, but over-elaboration or unforced errors kept the Welsh region in touch. Wilkinson was always there to mop up, relieving self-inflicted pressure with long kicks, but he too played with a swagger. The difference was he generally picked the right moment and when he went off there was no one to keep the profligate in check. Mistakes became costly.

The Blues might still have mounted a comeback, given their tendency this year to finish strongly, but they had been hanging on for long periods in the opening 50 minutes. Sonny Bill Williams, the former league centre who is weighing up contract offers from New Zealand, should have scored from the kick-off after May seized on a Roberts fumble, but he ran the wrong way and it came to sum up his side.

The Blues led for most of the first 30 minutes, despite seeing little of the ball. Leigh Halfpenny and Ben Blair each kicked a penalty either side of Wilkinson's first. Toulon's wings, Gabi Lovobalavu and Jeremy Sinzelle, lacked composure when they were presented with try-scoring opportunities and even Williams, who had a tendency to carry the ball in one arm close to the ground, was at times slapdash.

Williams did score a try just before half-time, finishing off a counter-attack that for once saw players take the right options, and Toulon should have scored another immediately after the restart. The Blues held firm, Wilkinson left the field and Xavier Rush,, the No8 who is reconsidering his impending move to Ulster, took charge. The former All Black helped set up Roberts' try, was twice involved in the move that ended with Halfpenny scoring in the corner to give the Blues the lead, and made a dent before Bradley Davies, a second row who ensured that Toulon never enjoyed a physical edge, scored the decisive try.

Thomas Sourice's try was a meagre consolation for Toulon. The Blues have been one of the form teams in Europe in the last five months, winning their last nine matches on the road, and their victory means that the Scarlets, rather than Gloucester, will be in the Heineken Cup next season. As they fly back to Cardiff tonight, the Blues should be toasting Fernández Lobbe.

Cardiff Blues Blair; Halfpenny, Laulala (Hewitt, 80), Roberts, Czekaj; Sweeney, Rees; Jenkins (capt; Yapp, ht), Thomas (G Williams, 48), Filise (Andrews, 60), Davies, Jones (Tito, 49), Molitika (Warburton, 64), Williams, Rush.

Tries Roberts, Halfpenny, Davies Cons Blair 2 Pens Blair 2, Halfpenny.

Toulon Marienval; Lovobalavu, May, Williams, Sinzelle (Umaga, 75); Wilkinson (Kefu, 49), Henjak (Mignoni, 60); Taumoepeau (Emmanuelli, 60), Fitzgerald (Bruno, 60), Kubriashvili (Ryan, 60), Lozada (Suta, 51), Skeate, Van Niekerk (capt), Fernández Lobbe, Auelua (Sourice, 70).

Tries Williams, Sourice Con Wilkinson Pens Wilkinson 2, May.

Referee A Rolland (Ireland) Attendance 48,990.


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