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Toulon defeats Connacht and reaches Challenge Cup final

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-01

In the French club's 11th victory in a row, Toulon defeated Connacht in the rugby Challenge Cup semi-final. They are to meet either London Wasps or the Cardiff Blues in the final that will take place in Marseille on May 23.

AFP - Toulon ground out a 19-12 win over Connacht in a European Challenge Cup semi-final in Galway, Ireland on Friday to set up a final against either Wasps or Cardiff in Marseille next month.

Having failed to make their complete territorial domination count in the first half, Toulon had to resist wave after wave of Connacht pressure in a tense second period of a dogged encounter.

Ultimately, the bedrock of the French club's victory came from the dependable boot of England outside-half Jonny Wilkinson, who scored three penalties and a drop-goal and converted Mafileo Kefu's try.

The home side, which came out a team transformed in the second half, scored four penalties through outside-half Ian Keatley.

Connacht immediately took the lead in beautiful weather at Galway's Sports Ground, Keatley kicking a simple penalty after Juan Fernandez Lobbe was caught offside.

Wilkinson responded with his first penalty in the 10th minute after Toulon had camped out in the Irish province's half.

Connacht were doughty in defence and it proved tough for the French club to break down the green wall, but Wilkinson finally kicked his second penalty nine minutes later.

A Toulon infringement from the restart saw Keatley draw the score level at six points apiece against the run of play, and amazingly it was only in the 23rd minute that Connacht entered French territory with ball in hand.

After two missed drop-goals from impressive English centre Tom May and Wilkinson, the latter finally nailed a long-range effort and shortly after a third penalty.

But frustratingly for the visitors, a helping hand was again given to Connacht with another blocking infringement at the restart, Keatley making no mistake with his gift of a third penalty.

English referee Wayne Barnes played an incredible 10 minutes of injury time in the first-half, awarding a handful of penalties and six scrums to Toulon on the Connacht line.

The pressure, which saw the home side replace a prop to avoid a potential penalty try, told when Australian scrum-half Matt Henjak played centre Kefu in under the posts with a smart drop-off a straight running angle.

Wilkinson converted to hand the French team a 19-9 lead at the break.

Keatley claimed a fourth penalty early in the second period as Connacht came out fighting.

Wilkinson departed with the final quarter to play and Henjak, who can only play in Europe after his Top 14 contract was traded to allow Argentinian Felipe Contepomi into Toulon's domestic squad, produced a magnificent try-saving tackle as the Irish upped the pressure.

And the visitors held on to extend their winning streak to 11 games.

In the other semi-final, Wasps host Cardiff Blues, with the final to be staged at Marseille's Stade Velodrome on May 23.

Date created : 2010-05-01