Racing 92 won their first Top 14 title since 1990 despite a red card for Maxime Machenaud early in the first half, defeating Toulon 29-21 at the Nou Camp.
Friday’s Top 14 Final was a rousing success, played out in front of a record crowd of 99,124 in Barcelona and a game for the ages.
Racing’s proficency at the breakdown and the work of their goalkickers made what seemed like an impossible task a reality. Joe Rokocoko’s try, a special moment in such a special setting, was vital and the points of Dan Carter and Johan Goosen sealed the most remarkable of wins.
The contest was rocked after just 18 minutes when Racing had France scrum-half Machenaud sent off for a tip tackle on Matt Giteau.
Mathieu Raynal, the same referee who red carded Ireland’s CJ Stander in Cape Town two weeks ago, initally looked set to award a yellow to Machenaud but after further replays opted for a red card.
Leigh Halfpenny slotted the resulting penalty with another not far behind, putting Toulon ahead 9-3.
With Machenaud now gone the kicking duties were now Carter’s responsibility and he stepped up to cut the deficit to just three points after good work from Eddy Ben Arous.
Toulon however were building momentum, and a persistent blindside attack heavily involving Josua Tuisova set up Mamuka Gorgodze to power his way over the line for the game’s first try. Halfpenny’s conversion from out wide came back off the post.
Carter struck again off the tee and then had the final say of the half after Gorgodze gave away a soft penalty for obstruction, a third Carter penalty keeping 14-man Racing in the contest as Toulon led 14-12 going into the half-time break.
Racing might have been down a man but they always had lethal weapons in the boots of Carter and Goosen.
This time it was the South African, after Levan Chilachava was penalised at the scrum, who landed a monster penalty to put Racing ahead for the first time at 15-14.
Soon after Toulon joined Racing on 14 men, Xavier Chiocci mindlessly going offside at a short maul and getting a yellow card for his troubles, and Goosen again stepped up to give Racing a four-point lead.
Basic penalties were starting to become a problem for Toulon, Tuisova straying infront of the kicker and pulled by referee Raynal as a result for Carter to slot his fourth penalty to make it 21-14.
The huge crowd packed into the Nou Camp had already been cheering for the underdog, so when Rokocoko then crossed for his side’s first try then understandably they were delerious.
The former All Blacks winger produced a spectacular chip and chase down the touchline before regathering to score, mobbed by his team-mates behind the posts as Racing suddenly began to believe the result was theirs for the taking.
Carter couldn’t convert, but Racing were in a good position at 26-14.
Toulon needed a lifeline and it came through Maxime Mermoz, squeezing through a ruck to score behind the posts after Bryan Habana’s smart line in the build-up sucked in plenty of tired Racing defenders.
Halfpenny’s conversion went over with only eight minutes remaining but it was to be his last act of the final, surprisingly replaced with time running out.
Racing however were beginning to tire after so long without a full compliment of players, clinging on in defence deep in their 22 as they were left counting the clock.
Jonathan Pélissié knocked on but from the resulting scrum Toulon hounded Juan Imhoff, who had filled in throughout at scrum-half with Machenaud gone, to win both a penalty and then a scrum five metres out from the Racing line.
Stunningly the penalty went Racing’s way, having reintroduced Benjamin Tameifuna to the front row onto the loosehead side, allowing Racing to clear with time running out.
A superb carry from Camille Chat won another penalty for Racing and Carter did the rest, slotting another three-pointer to spark amazing scenes as Racing soaked up a special win. One for the ages.
Tries: Gorgodze, Mermoz
Pens: Halfpenny 3
Yellow Card: Chiocci
Pens: Goosen 3, Carter 5
Red Card: Machenaud
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Romain Taofiféuna, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Théo Belan, 21 Delon Armitage, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Manusa Saulo
Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Johan Goosen, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Benjamin Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Antoine Claassen, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Marc Andreu, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Luc Ducalcon
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite, Cyril Lafon
TMO: Vincent Azoulay