James hoists Wilkinson on own petard as Clermont charge onwards

French Top 14 semi-final: Toulon 29 Clermont Auvergne 35
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The Independent Online

Brock James turned the tables on Jonny Wilkinson with a mammoth drop goal in extra time as Clermont Auvergne booked their place in the Top 14 final after a pulsating contest which served as a glittering advertisement for French club rugby.

Wilkinson appeared to have done in Saturday's semi-final enough to send Toulon to Paris but up stepped an Australian, the Clermont fly-half Brock James, to exact revenge for that famous World Cup-winning drop goal seven years ago and punish Wilkinson for a clearance kick which missed touch. James smashed over the drop goal from 51 metres. Moments later, the wing Julien Malzieu's kick-and-chase try sealed Clermont's place in an 11th final. They will meet Perpignan, the champions who beat Toulouse in the other semi-final in Montpellier on Friday night, at the Stade de France on Saturday week.

We saw just about the complete gamut of individual achievements from Wilkinson, who finished the first 80 minutes with a soaring penalty from halfway to send the match into extra- time. There were shades of the 2003 World Cup final, true, but the big difference was that this time his heroics were not enough.

Wilkinson began with a routine penalty after the Clermont captain, Aurélien Rougerie, had got himself offside at a ruck. This was candy for a kid, a pleasing introduction to the hurly-burly of a French semi-final. A drop goal out of nothing, from 40 metres, followed after 13 minutes. By the time 80 minutes were up, the Englishman had kicked three more penalties and the conversion of a 73rd-minute try by the New Zealander Sonny Bill Williams, which revived Toulon from a 22-12 deficit. Wilkinson's difficult conversion and that thumping penalty three minutes later, which tied the scores and sent the game into extra time, were precision acts from an ice-cool operator.

Unfortunately for Wilkinson, he did not have the kicking glory all to himself. By the time these two fiercely ambitious sides had bashed themselves almost to a standstill, Clermont's Morgan Parra had kicked four penalties and converted a try by prop Davit Zirakashvili. Earlier, Anthony Floch had dropped a goal. Both sides were close to exhaustion in extra time, but it was Clermont, who have been to 10 finals, losing 10 times, who dragged their battered bodies over the finish line.

Toulon: L Rooney (F Contepomi, 40); G Lovobalavu, M Kefu, S Williams, T Umaga (F Auelua, 71);



J Wilkinson, P Mignoni (F Cibray, 72); L Emmanuelli (S Taumoepeau, 51), S Bruno (P Fitzgerald, 66), D Kubriashvili, K Chesney (R Skeate, 57), J Suta, J van Niekerk (capt), J El Abd (O Missoup, 38-40; 53) J M Fernandez Lobbe.

Clermont Auvergne: A Floch; N Nalaga, A Rougerie (capt), M Joubert (G Canale, 70), J Malzieu; B James, M Parra (K Senio, 74); T Domingo (L Faure, 68), M Ledesma, M Scelzo (D Zirakashvili, 40), J Cudmore, T Privat (J Pierre, 58), J Bonnaire, E Vermeulen, A Lapandry (A Audebert, 66).

Referee: J Garces (France).

*Munster's Magners League title defence came to a disappointing end as Jamie Heaslip led Leinster's charge into the grand final. Rob Kearney scored the only try of a pulsating derby, but No 8 Heaslip was the star, showing superb form in defence and attack. Leinster were too good during the second half, scoring 13 points in a 15-minute spell close to the hour-mark.

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