Wilkinson masterclass steers Toulon to victory
PARIS (AFP) –
Jonny Wilkinson kicked 25 points as Toulon stayed on course for the French Top 14 final with a 35-16 win over defending champions Toulouse on Saturday.
Toulon stay two points ahead of Clermont, who earlier defeated Stade Francais 37-10, and are a huge 11 points ahead of third-placed Toulouse.
In a repeat of the 2012 final, Toulon were desperate to shrug off a recent run which had seen them lose two of their last three matches.
On Saturday, buoyed by the return of some of their Six Nations players, 33-year-old Wilkinson kicked two early penalties for a 6-0 lead, but it was Toulouse who grabbed the first try after 13 minutes.
Gael Fickou, the former captain of the Toulon junior team before he switched to Toulouse last year, set up the converted score for Timoci Matanavou.
Wilkinson kicked another penalty just four minutes later with French international centre Mathieu Bastareaud soon going over for Toulon’s opening try of the night.
The veteran English fly-half converted, Toulouse stayed in touch with two drop goals from Lionel Beauxis while another Wilkinson penalty gave the home side a 19-13 lead at the interval.
Beauxis cut the deficit to 19-16 early in the second half before Wilkinson succeeded with two drop goals and a penalty to put Toulon out of sight.
Winger Rudi Wulf scored a last-minute try with, fittingly, Wilkinson having the last say with the conversion.
Clermont picked-up a bonus point win over Stade Francais at the Stade de France.
They opened strongly with a try after just two minutes. Welsh international full-back Lee Byrne bursting through the home defence and feeding French centre and club captain Aurelien Rougerie for a try which Morgan Parra converted.
Two more tries from Canadian lock Jamie Cudmore after 12 minutes and New Zealand winger Sitiveni Sivivatu after 27, both converted by Parra, put the side from Auvergne 24-3 up and firmly in command at half-time.
Despite the absence of several international players, Clermont kept up the pressure in the second half, moving ahead 30-3 with two more Parra penalties before Stade finally dotted down through replacement Martin Rodriguez Gurruchaga
But with four minutes to go, Clermont had the last word and a handy offensive bonus point when powerful Fiji winger Napolioni Nalagi bulldozed his way through the line to score.
The defeat, their first at home this season, all but ends the fading hopes of Stade Francais to grab the sixth and final place in the playoffs which follow the regular season and end in the championship match at the Stade de France on June 1.