Biarritz's Yachvili beats Wilkinson in battle of the boot
Toulon 18 Biarritz 21
Jonny Wilkinson – remember him? – rarely loses a goal-kicking shoot-out, especially with silverware at stake. Last night at Twickenham's second stadium, in an all-French final for the Amlin Challenge Cup, the barely thinkable happened when the Biarritz scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili stared down the great man by producing a sublime display of marksmanship. As a result, his side will play Heineken Cup rugby next season.
It is almost a commonplace in the Basque country that Biarritz are two teams in one: a winning side with Yachvili, a losing side without him. The truth of this was soon evident as the string-puller extraordinaire made Toulon dance to his tune before landing the first of seven successful penalty kicks from a horrible position, on the junction of the 10-metre and five-metre lines – a shot of fully 50 metres with the angle. Yachvili reduced the Stoop to Subbuteo proportions, so casually did he land the goal.
Appropriately enough, Toulon had taken the field looking like a dance troupe: among the many daft hair-dos on display were Mohicans, mullets, pony tails and, in the case of the one-time Saracens forward Kris Chesney, a full slap-head arrangement. Not that Wilkinson seemed interested: a World Cup-winning outside-half focuses on the art and science of goal-kicking. Predictably, he matched Yachvili kick for kick after fluffing his initial attempt from middle range, and it was only when the Biarritz man nailed an awkward three-pointer from right field that the first-half argument went the way of the Basque underdogs.
Toulon would have settled for that 12-9 deficit, given the territorial control established by Yachvili and the badly mistimed restart hit by their international wing Alexis Palisson, who brought Iain Balshaw crashing in transparently illegal fashion but got nothing more than light chastisement from referee Wayne Barnes. A card would have been reasonable – it should have been automatic.
Not that it took Toulon long to see a flash of yellow. Shortly after Wilkinson had squared it with a fourth penalty early in the second half, Carl Hayman tip-tackled Taku Ngwenya and trudged off to the cooler. Yachvili restored the Biarritz lead from the scene of the crime and when the England flanker Steffon Armitage followed in the steps of the All Black prop for killing the ball on the floor a few metres from the Toulon line, the force was truly with the Basques. Inevitably, Yachvili capitalised from the tee.
Yet by the time both forwards returned to the field, Toulon had worked their way back to within three points – a Wilkinson penalty, of course – and when the celebrated outside-half dropped a goal from 45 metres to level it up once again, the tide seemed ready to turn. But Yachvili would not be denied and landed one last, winning, goal seven minutes from time.
Biarritz: I Balshaw; D Haylett-Petty, J Barraque, D Traille, T Ngwenya; J Peyrelongue (M Bosch, 72), D Yachvili; Y Watremez (S Marconnet h-t), A Heguy (B August, 69), E Van Staden (F Gomez Kodela, 59), J Thion (E Lund, 70), P Taele, W Lauret, B Guyot (T Gray, 49), I Harinordoquy (capt).
Toulon: B Lapeyre; D Smith, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, A Palisson; J Wilkinson, S Tillous-Borde; E Lewis-Roberts, S Bruno (J-C Orioli, 51), C Hayman, C Samson, K Chesney (D Schofield, 57), P Gunther, S Armitage, J Van Niekerk (capt).
Referee: W Barnes (England).
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