Heineken Cup 2014: Three talking points as Toulon beat Munster

Heineken Cup 2014: Three talking points as Jonny Wilkinson kicks Toulon to a 24-16 victory over Munster

Toulon
24
Munster
16

Captain Wilko kicks Toulon to Cardiff

Jonny Wilkinson may be expected to call time on his stellar career in the summer, but he was again the match-winning hero as he kicked 21 points for Toulon to set up a Heineken Cup showdown with Saracens at the Millennium Stadium next month. There may not have been the try-scoring heroics seen at HQ yesterday as Sarries put Clermont to the sword, but the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner produced another kicking masterclass as he traded kicks with Ireland’s Ian Keatley in a brutal encounter in Marseille. Toulon had stoked the fires before the match as it was revealed they had already booked their accommodation in the Welsh capital and were overwhelming favourites in most books, but it was another close affair as the reigning champions struggled to find their way over the whitewash despite the threats of Bryan Habana, Delon Armitage and Matt Giteau in their backline. But with a goal-machine on the pitch, Toulon showed enough ferocity to win the penalties to allow the left boot of their captain and talisman to take over as he has done on so many occasions. And as if his kicking from the tee wasn’t enough, Wilkinson added a trademark drop-goal in the first half and had a second effort charged down in the second.

Penalties the difference for Munster

Ireland wing Simon Zebo scored the only try of the match, but it wasn’t enough for Munster to reach another final as they were edged out by the Top14 leaders. It may have been a controversial try with referee Wayne Barnes giving the score on the advice of his assistant rather than going to the TMO—something which would certainly have angered Toulon coach Bernard Laporte, who has already accused the English referee of being biased to any team playing his side—but it wasn’t enough at the end as they continued to give away penalties to allow Toulon back in. Munster have a proud record in the Heineken Cup and while they may not be able to lift the trophy for the third time in its final iteration, they will continue to win friends for a heroic performance which will leave them disappointed. The commitment was first-rate from Munster across the field. Keatley held his nerve in a hostile environment as he kept Rob Penney’s side in the match, and Zebo’s try-saving tackle on Steffon Armitage was another example. On another day, and with different decisions, Munster could have won.

Munster need to find killer backline

Munster were thoroughly battered at times. France wrecking-ball centre Mathieu Bastareaud was particularly menacing in defence and equally powerful in attack, but for all the brute strength Munster were not completely outclassed as Clermont were against Saracens in the first semi-final on Saturday. There is no denying that Munster have heart, and can match most sides, but what they lack is a clinical backline. Zebo and Keith Earls can cut it in the RaboDirect Pro12, but they’re not world class. The same can be said of centres Casey Laulala and James Downey. There is no competition against the likes of Habana, a Rugby World Cup winner, or Delon Armitage, Drew Smith and Giteau. Munster’s bench brings power, but rarely has the killer edge that will strike fear into the hearts of the opposition in the final half hour. Toulon had Maxime Mermoz, David Smith and Michael Claassens ready to roll out, who can slot in and make a difference with fresh legs. Munster need to get the chequebook out and find at least a centre or two, maybe even a full-back who can make the difference to really mix it with the big boys, but perhaps therein lies the problem, they can’t quite compete with big-spending Toulon, who can pretty much buy who they want, or Saracens who dice close with the Premiership salary cap and seem to consistently post operating losses.

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