* Toulon beat Clermont again in Twickenham final
* Brilliant Mitchell solo try secures 24-18 victory (Adds Laporte, Davies quotes)
By Justin Palmer
LONDON, May 2 (Reuters) - Toulon’s class, big-match experience and the belief oozing through their expensively-assembled ‘galacticos’ secured an unprecedented third successive European title with a 24-18 victory over Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham on Saturday.
Australian Drew Mitchell’s fantastic solo try, beating six men, 11 minutes from time clinched rugby’s inaugural Champions Cup final for Toulon who repeated their 2013 final win over their French rivals.
Clermont, who scored tries through Wesley Fofana and Nick Abendanon, mounted a furious late assault but Toulon, with a late first-half try from Mathieu Bastareaud and 14 points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, held firm.
Victory was a perfect send-off into impending retirement for Toulon’s World-Cup winners Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams, as well as former All Black prop and club captain Carl Hayman.
“It’s pretty hard to describe. We’ve been questioned a bit as a squad, what we play for but we were a pretty driven side out there,” winger Mitchell told reporters.
“They pushed us right to the end but it’s good for us to know we had that belief and that trust in one another.”
Coach Bernard Laporte said Toulon believed in their “collective spirit”.
“It’s an absolute joy to see my players happy. It’s never easy to play Clermont, they are a great team,” he said.
“I’m a bit sad for them but that’s sport.”
For Clermont, who made the early running to lead 11-3, it was another bitter pill to swallow’ as like Toulon they enjoy major financial backing and were desperate to shed their reputation as nearly men having lost a string of finals.
They suffered a big blow before kickoff with flyhalf and goalkicker Brock James injuring his thigh in the warm-up, French international Camille Lopez stepping up from the bench.
But they made light of the loss, taking the game to Toulon with Fofana charging over after scrumhalf Morgan Parra charged down opposite number Sebastien Tillous-Borde’s clearing kick.
Clermont’s willingness to attack cost them, though, on the stroke of halftime when Abendanon had the chance to kick the ball out but chose to chip over the top in his own half. Toulon re-gathered, counter-attacked and Bastareaud bull-dozed over.
His score changed the momentum of the game. Halfpenny’s accuracy extended the lead before Abendanon took advantage of a static defence for another fine individual try to narrow the deficit to one point after 62 minutes.
Toulon, befitting a team who have created a rugby dynasty, hit straight back through Mitchell’s brilliant score and repelled a late charge to send the red and black travelling supporters into raptures.
Clermont centre Jonathan Davies said his side had not done quite enough.
“The effort was there, it was just the execution. Toulon are a quality team and punish your mistakes. It’s a tough one to take. This town deserves silverware.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)