Lyon 30-12 Toulon: Lyon claim Challenge Cup final victory in first major honour since 1933

Lyon made history in Marseille as they lifted a first ever European title and first major honour since 1933

Lyon won their first major honour for 89 years and first-ever European title on Friday, as they claimed a thoroughly deserved 30-12 Challenge Cup final victory over French rivals Toulon at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.

Playing in their first major final since May 1933, when victory over RC Narbonne in Bordeaux brought them the French Championship, Lyon scored through scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud, centre Pierre-Louis Barassi and a penalty try, with out-half Leo Berdeu adding two conversions and two penalties, and Charlie Ngatai one further penalty.

Toulon, who lost last year’s Challenge Cup final as well to Bristol in Aix-en-Provence, were looking to claim Europe’s secondary competition for the first time, and add it to their three Champions Cup triumphs (2013, 2014, 2015), but their performance was laden with errors and profligacy.

Scrum-half Baptiste Serin and wing Cheslin Kolbe scored their tries, one converted by Louis Carbonel, but in truth the Lyon margin of victory could well have been more, with wing Davit Niniashvili foolishly placing his foot on the dead-ball line while diving to score at the end of the first half.

Not to be denied, Pierre Mignoni’s Lyon – who leaves to take over at Toulon next season – combined battling last-ditch defence with superb free-flowing attack to claim an emotional win.

The match was played in front of record Challenge Cup crowd of 51,431

The match was played in front of record Challenge Cup crowd of 51,431

Lyon looked to be in for a try after just 54 seconds of the final, when Ngatai chipped ahead in the maiden attack for No 8 and skipper Jordan Taufua to compete with wing Gabin Villiere for a bouncing ball.

Amidst the scramble, possession landed fortuitously into the grasp of Couilloud to sprint in, but on review with TMO Ian Tempest, referee Luke Pearce quickly ruled out the score for a knock on with replays appearing to show Taufua had got a hand to the ball into Villiere before it fell backwards.

On eight minutes Lyon did hit the front, and again it was Couilloud touching down over the line with Taufua heavily involved, though the score had more to do with a wayward Sergio Parisse pass deep in the Toulon half than anything as Taufua intercepted and ran forward, before popping a superb offload up off the ground for his scrum-half to score.

Lyon scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud scored a try and was named man of the match

Lyon scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud scored a try and was named man of the match

In the face of a chorus of boos and whistles by the rouge et noir support, Berdeu converted crisply, but a big error followed from the Lyon 10 in the 14th minute as he kicked out on the full from just outside his own 22, handing Toulon a big chance.

It was a chance they would not take, though, as Lyon blindside Dylan Cretin did brilliantly to strip the ball in contact and win a turnover.

Not two minutes later, Toulon roared back with their first try of the final after some inspired play by scrum-half Serin, who both started and finished a lovely move.

Sprinting on an arcing run near halfway to create the linebreak, Serin then produced a reverse offload for hooker Christopher Tolofua to run forward. From there, quick ball saw Luc and Parisse make good ground, before a monstrous combination of skipper Charles Ollivon and Jean Baptiste Gros took Toulon to the verge of the try-line, allowing Serin to pick and pounce.

Baptiste Serin celebrates his try for Toulon which briefly levelled the final

Baptiste Serin celebrates his try for Toulon which briefly levelled the final

Carbonel converted to level matters, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long as an Eben Etzebeth knock on from the restart put his side under pressure, before a hugely impactful Josua Tuisova carry saw Ollivon penalised for failing to roll away, allowing Berdeu to slot over the simple penalty for 10-7.

Carbonel should have tied the game up again almost straight away up the other end via the tee when Tuisova was penalised at the breakdown, but his central kick from 38 metres or so was poorly missed wide.

Toulon soon kicked the ball dead as repeated errors kept creeping into their play, and they were very nearly punished when Ngatai grubber-kicked and sprinted after his own kick, landing on the ball in a race with full-back Aymeric Luc.

Replays proved inconclusive as to whether Luc had correctly grounded the ball first, but Pearce refused to formally review it to the frustration of the Lyon bench.

Star Toulon wing Villiere – the key man in their semi-final victory over in-form Saracens – was forced to depart with an ankle injury in the next phase in a mighty blow.

A bright move down the left almost saw Villiere’s replacement Jiuta Wainiqolo sprint into the corner, but fantastic cover defence by Lyon full-back Toby Arnold and Tuisova drove him into touch.

Lyon skipper Jordan Taufua and co defended brilliantly throughout

Lyon skipper Jordan Taufua and co defended brilliantly throughout

Toulon stole the resulting lineout, but while attacking deep within the Lyon 22 they lost the ball forward as a massive opportunity slipped by.

Clever spoiling by English second row Joel Kpoku at the maul forced a Toulon knock on as the half drifted to a close, and there remained one final chance for Lyon before the break after a massive Berdeu penalty kick to touch from hand.

Toulon were penalised for coming in at the side of the resulting maul, but Berdeu sliced wide with a routine kick to stretch the lead to six points – again with Toulonnais fans hugely vocal.

It looked as if that miss would matter not, though, as in the final play of the half, the alert Couilloud took a quick-tap penalty on halfway, jinked his way into the Toulon 22 at pace, and then offloaded for wing Niniashvili to run over.

On TMO review, however, replays found that 19-year-old Georgian wing Niniashvili had clipped the dead ball line with his foot as he needlessly ran closer to the posts when deep within in-goal. In footballing parlance, it was the worst of open goal misses.

Davit Niniashvili's late first half try was ruled out for putting a foot on the dead-ball line

Davit Niniashvili’s late first half try was ruled out for putting a foot on the dead-ball line

It left Lyon up by three, but hugely frustrated having dominated the half.

A slow start to the second period exploded into life six minutes in as Lyon attacked with stunning verve and hands down the left through Niniashvili, Barassi, Patrick Sobela and Arnold, with the latter’s final inside pass then clearly batted forward by Toulon’s last-man Luc, giving referee Pearce the easiest sin-binning and penalty try decision of the season.

Up by 10 and facing 14 men for a further 10 minutes Lyon kept coming, and two minutes later Barassi finished off a glorious try, as Tuisova made a half-break on the outside and offloaded to set Berdeu running freely, before the No 10 executed an exquisite chip pass ahead into space for his midfielder to claim and score.

Berdeu’s conversion gave Lyon a hefty 24-7 lead, with Toulon facing a mountain to climb. It was one they wouldn’t come close to scaling.

Lyon outside-centre Pierre-Louis Barassi scored their crucial third try

Lyon outside-centre Pierre-Louis Barassi scored their crucial third try

Ex-Toulon second row Sebastien Taofifenua attempted to give them a helping hand by conceding a senseless penalty for a late tackle on Carbonel, handing Toulon prime territory through no work of their own as the ball was kicked in the act of the tackle and so the penalty was from where it landed.

Two further penalties followed against Lyon near their own try-line (at the maul and for offside), and when Toulon called for a scrum to attack from, they marched forward for another penalty before attacking at the Lyon line. Another five-metre scrum was called for, but a massive Lyon effort against the head forced a priceless penalty to clear the danger.

Indeed, such a set-piece penalty so near to their own line when under a wealth of pressure was arguably the most significant moment of the final.

Luc returned thereafter to restore Toulon to 15 men, but they remained stuck on seven points and 17 points behind.

That deficit soon became 20 points when Parisse jackalled well to attempt to win a turnover near his own 22, but had his efforts thwarted as Carbonel was too slow to roll away. It handed Berdeu the simple task of kicking over, which he did.

Leo Berdeu kicked two conversions, two penalties and a wonderful kiss-pass for Barassi's try

Leo Berdeu kicked two conversions, two penalties and a wonderful kiss-pass for Barassi’s try

Try as they might, Toulon failed to clamber back the deficit as a series of close-range carries was ended when prop Beka Gigashvili knocked on virtually on top of the try-line.

On review with the TMO, the knock on was found to have been caused by a no-arms Berdeu tackle – an act which saw the Lyon No 10 sin-binned and Toulon choose to attack from another five-metre scrum. Yet again though, Toulon passed up the opening as replacement back-row Facundo Isa knocked on while attempting a quick-tap.

Instead, a stunning Arnold run from deep set Lyon running forward, and when Toulon were caught offside, Ngatai dispatched the simple penalty with Berdeu in the bin.

Out of sight and into the final 10 minutes, Ngatai was sin-binned for repeated infringements before Kolbe sped into the corner for a score firmly of the consolation variety, leaving Lyon and their supporters to toast success of a level not experienced for nearly nine decades.

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