Toulon, Racing to clash in Top 14 final


Rennes - Toulon reached a fourth Top 14 final in five years Saturday with a 27-18 defeat of Montpellier and will face fellow big-spenders Racing 92 for the title at Barcelona's Nou Camp next Friday.

Racing had reached their first final in 26 years by beating Clermont 34-33 in an extra-time thriller 24 hours earlier.

Toulon's joy was tempered, however, by a worrying head injury suffered by Ma'a Nonu in the second half which forced the All Blacks centre to groggily leave the field.

Toulon manager Bernard Laporte admitted his team were keen to avenge the 19-16 loss his men suffered at the hands of Racing in the European Cup quarter-finals.

"They are the best team in France but there is a chance for revenge for the European Cup defeat even if it is a different context," said Laporte.

Montpellier captain Fulgence Ouedraogo admitted his side had been outplayed.

"They were stronger than us, they prepared well and knew how to play us," he said.

"We're disappointed because we knew it was a unique opportunity to play in a magnificent stadium. But we must say that Toulon deserve to be in the final."

Welsh international fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who finished with 17 points, marked his first match of the season by kicking three penalties to two from Montpellier's South African flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis in the opening exchanges.

Halfpenny had not featured since a knee ligament injury ruled him out of the World Cup last year.

Toulon, the Top 14's leading try scorers in the season with 89, grabbed the only try of the first half after 30 minutes.

Steffon Armitage demonstrated his status as the tournament's turnover king by stealing the ball from a desperate Montpellier defence.

Armitage fed Georgian flanker Mamuka Gorgodze who in turn freed Nonu whose pass found Fijian winger Josua Tuisova in space for the score. It was 22-year-old Tuisova's fifth try against Montpellier this season.

Halfpenny missed the conversion but the Welshman played a key role in his team's second try, three minutes into the second period.

Halfpenny side-stepped past two defenders to make the break before feeding Nonu who powered over for the score despite having Jesse Mogg clinging onto him.

The Welsh fullback added the extras for 21-6.

Australian fullback Mogg pulled European Challenge Cup winners Montpellier back into the game when he went over for a try from close range.

But Catrakilis missed the conversion before South African teammate Francois Steyn pushed a difficult long-range penalty wide of the posts.

Mogg then grabbed a second try in the space of three minutes when he intercepted an ambitious pass from Toulon scrumhalf Jonathan Pelissie on halfway and sprinted away for the score.

This time, Catrakilis hit the target with the extras to move to 24-18 down.

But Bismarck du Plessis was then penalised at a ruck which allowed Halfpenny to relieve the pressure and push Toulon to 27-18 with a straightforward penalty.

Toulon then lost Nonu to a head injury after the 34-year-old centre came off worse in a sickening, accidental high-impact collision with New Zealand compatriot Anthony Tuitavake.

Catrakilis missed another penalty, making it eight points squandered with the boot by Montpellier in the second period.

Halfpenny saw a difficult penalty kick come off the post as the clock ticked down but it didn't matter as Toulon gave their supporters, who had made the marathon 1,000km trip north to Rennes, a night to remember.

"When you have Leigh Halfpenny, it's like having Jonny Wilkinson (a former Toulon star). He is an international kicker," said Laporte.

"It's not an insult to others but when he is available, it makes life easier."

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