(Reuters) – Lyon deservedly won their first major rugby trophy in 89 years when they overwhelmed error-strewn triple European champions Toulon 30-12 in an all-French Challenge Cup final in Marseille on Friday. Appearing in their first major final since they were crowned French champions in 1933, Lyon were on top for most of the game […]
Rugby-Lyon end 89-year barren spell by beating Toulon in Challenge Cup final
(Reuters) – Lyon deservedly won their first major rugby trophy in 89 years when they overwhelmed error-strewn triple European champions Toulon 30-12 in an all-French Challenge Cup final in Marseille on Friday.
Appearing in their first major final since they were crowned French champions in 1933, Lyon were on top for most of the game as Toulon looked a pale shadow of the team who overwhelmed Saracens in the semi-finals and fell to a fourth defeat in four finals in Europe’s second-tier competition.
Lyon have spent much of the last decade bouncing between France’s top two divisions while Toulon, one of the richest clubs in the world, were winning a hat-trick of European Cups with their star-studded team.
They looked anything but top class on Friday, however, as they committed countless errors and failed to get their big-name players into the game.
Lyon started on the front foot and, though they had a first-minute try ruled out for a knock-on, were soon on the scoreboard when Jordan Taufua intercepted Sergio Parisse on the 22 and popped the ball for Baptiste Couilloud to score.
Toulon barely managed to build an attack until the 16th minute when they charged forward to splinter the Lyon defence and allow Baptiste Serin to dart through.
A Leo Berdeu penalty made it 10-7 to Lyon and they thought they had extended that at the end of the first half, only for Davit Niniashvili to make an error that, had the match turned out differently, might have haunted him forever.
After a great tap and go by Couilloud, the 19-year-old Georgian winger ran round unmolested under the posts but, inexplicably, got too close to the dead ball line and TV replays showed his foot brushed it, ruling out the try.
It was the third Lyon try ruled out by the TMO but they were on the right side of the officials three minutes after the restart when a penalty try was awarded and Aymeric Luc sin-binned for a deliberate knock on.
Three minutes later it was 24-7 when a high-speed break and clever grubber by Berdeu set up Pierre-Louis Barassi to gather and score.
Berdeu added another penalty and Lyon, well beaten by Toulon twice in the Top 14 this season, made sure when Charlie Ngatai slotted another 10 minutes from time.
There was a ragged finish to the game, with Lyon briefly down to 13 men and Niniashvili outrageously allowed to play on for three minutes when clearly struggling after being knocked out.
Toulon’s Springbok winger Cheslin Kolbe finally got his hands on the ball to score in the corner but it was a mere consolation and the vastly outnumbered Lyon fans barely paused their celebrations.
“It’s a bit of history for the club and I want to thank all the fans who came down from Lyon – you can see how much it means to them and the city,” said captain Taufua.
“We wanted to come out and play good rugby and I think we did that tonight and then showed the heart to defend like crazy in that last 20 minutes.”
Fellow New Zealander Ngatai added: “It’s pretty awesome. It’s our first final so to be champions is a bit surreal really. We’ve grown a lot, the team has been together a while and we’ve had some ups and downs that we learned from.”
The Stade Velodrome crowd of 51,431 was a record for the competition and there will be even more there on Saturday when Leinster face La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)