THE EUROPEAN Champions Cup 2015 was signed off with a physical and intense encounter between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham on Saturday May 2nd. It marked the end of the first season of the new installment of the annual top-tier European club competition after replacing Heineken Cup. It also marked the second all-French final, and the second final between Clermont and Toulon in three seasons.
It was always going to be an entertaining game. Clermont versus Toulon. Top 14 no. 2 versus no. 1, involving three nominees for European Player of the Year. (Clermont’s Fritz Lee and Nick Abendanon, and Toulon’s Steffon Armitage). The battle of the French No. 9 shirt: Morgan Parra versus Sébastien Tillous-Borde. Mathieu Bastareaud’s raw power versus Wesley Fofana’s flair. Leigh Halfpenny’s boot versus Nick Abendanon’s running game. In the end, it was the ultra-physical force of Toulon’s ‘Galacticos’ that grabbed a historical third consecutive trophy. The experience of its pack, fronted by the Souther Hemisphere Test foursome of Carl Hayman, Juan Smith, Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha, provided the crucial fundament for success. Intent on leaving on a high before retiring, their exceptional triple act brought Toulon back into the game after the early Wesley Fofana try.
Clermont MOTM: Nick Abendanon
The final produced some moments of magic, of which Nick Abendanon’s magical chip-and-chase try stood out. The South African-born full-back with two England caps to his name was awarded European Player of the Year on Tuesday. In his first season in France, he has been an influential figure in taking Clermont to yet another European final. He also tops the Champions Cup charts with the most metres made, and most beaten defenders.
Toulon MOTM: Steffon Armitage
Steffon Armitage, last season’s player of the year, had yet another phenomenal game, contributing with his beastly presence at the breakdown. Of the total seventy-eight turnovers Toulon produced in their European campaign, Armitage made an impressive twenty-two. As commentators and coaches continue to discuss a possible call up for England, Armitage once again proved in the final the consistency and expertise he would bring to the English camp. Particularly his performance against Leinster off the bench, when he made the Irish Test trio of Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, and Devin Toner look like junior players at the breakdown, was immense. If his performances do not call for a call up under ‘exceptional circumstances’, nothing will.
Erik Olsson’s Tournament XV:
1 – Eddy Ben Arous, Racing Metro
2 – Benjamin Kayser, Clermont Auvergne
3 – Mike Ross, Leinster
4 – George Kruis, Saracens
5 – Devon Toner, Leinster
6 – Juan Smith, Toulon
7 – Steffon Armitage, Toulon
8 – Fritz Lee, Clermont
9 – Maxime Machenaud, Racing Metro
10 – Brock James, Clermont
11 – George North, Northampton
12 – Wesley Fofana, Clermont
13 – Mathieu Bastareaud, Toulon
14 – Drew Mitchell, Toulon
15 – Nick Abendanon, Clermont