The Saracens played brilliantly throughout the domestic championship and cruised to a relatively easy title, but they were outclassed in the Heineken cup. Toulon brought a team packed with stars and every single one of them shined brightly this Saturday, when the French side won by 23-6. They led from start to finish and the outcome of the match was never in doubt, despite the British side’s efforts.
Wilkinson was the man that everyone expected to perform to the highest level and the former England fly-half exceeded expectations. He spent most of the time in the spotlight at it was only natural to be so, as he is probably playing for the last year. Winning back-to-back Heineken cups is a remarkable achievement and the English rugby player has one more chance to lift a trophy in Paris.
Toulon is not a team to depend on one or two players and they put this theory to the test yesterday, when steamrolling past the Saracens. Their opponents were highly motivated and came out firing on all cylinders, but Toulon knew exactly how to douse the flames and the English side was rendered irrelevant in the second half. They never found the strength to close the gap separating them from the leaders and trailed for the entire match, with the last 20 min. being downright disappointing.
They have one more game to play next week, but it is of no importance whatsoever because this was the trophy that the Saracens ware hoping to lift. Past performance and recent results suggested that they might be up for the task, which made the crushing defeat even more disheartening. In order for them to stand a chance, they needed their defense to play impeccable rugby and sadly for them this didn’t happen.
Scoring one more point than the opponent is a strategy that sometimes delivers positive results in domestic championships, but the Heineken cup is the competition of an entirely different caliber. Toulon were clearly the better team and they showed no weakness in any area, while the Saracens looked stiff and tired. Punters and pundits were probably unimpressed by the results as many proclaimed before the kickoff that the French side will cruise towards victory.
The surprise resides in the fact that they won by 17 points and they never had to close the deficit, or even worry that the Saracens might tie them for the lead. Only time will tell how they will perform in 2015 and beyond, with Wilkinson and two more players announcing their retirement. For the time being, Toulon have a great squad and if they replace these two players were departing with some that are at least half as good, they should have a decent chance at winning the Heineken cup for the third time in a row.