Updated: Monday, 28 April 2014 02:38 | By Agence France-Presse

Holders Toulon into final after thrilling Munster clash

Holders Toulon reached the European Cup final with a 24-16 defeat of two-time winners Munster in a pulsating encounter in Marseille on Sunday.


Holders Toulon into final after thrilling Munster clash

Toulon's British fly-half Jonny Wilkinson kicks a penalty shot during the Rugby Union European Cup semi-final match between Toulon and Munster at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, on April 27, 2014 - by Bertrand Langlois

Former England great Jonny Wilkinson scored 21 of his side's points while Munster -- appearing in a record 11th semi-final -- scored the only try of the match through Simon Zebo.

Toulon will play English side Saracens, who thrashed last season's finalists Clermont 46-6 on Saturday, in the final in Cardiff on May 24.

"It was a hell of a game," Wilkinson, who turns 35 the day after the final, told Sky Sports.

"We were in danger all over the pitch. They have so many tricks up their sleeve that I thought even eight points might not be enough of a lead. We had to be switched on for today and fortunately we were."

Zebo was devastated by the defeat which was the fourth time he had lost in the semi-finals.

"Turning this sequence around has to come from within ourselves," said the 24-year-old wing.

"We can't keep doing this to ourselves every year. Semi-finals are not good enough for Munster rugby club." 

The first-half turned into a kicking at goal competition between Wilkinson and his opposite number Ian Keatley with the former England international landing four penalties while the Irishman converted three from three opportunities.

Wilkinson also landed a drop goal while compatriot Delon Armitage converted a superb long range effort on the stroke of half-time from just inside the Toulon half.

The Irish province had only themselves to blame for going in behind for apart from a series of mistakes they also failed to take advantage of referee Wayne Barnes reducing the hosts to 14 men in the 29th minute.

- Raking an opponent -

The Englishman, after consulting with the video referee, decided to sin bin Argentinian Juan Fernandez-Lobbe for unintentional raking of a Munster opponent.

Toulon came out firing on all cylinders in the second-half and it took a superb tackle from Ireland wing Zebo to deny Armitage's brother Steffon a try -- the No8's foot going into touch before he touched down over the tryline.

Munster were under real pressure as Toulon's South African wing Bryan Habana started to sparkle, one penetrating run through the centre setting up another try-scoring opportunity which Keith Earls managed to prevent.

Those close escapes provoked the Irish province into finally launching an attack of their own and it resulted in a try for Zebo.

Scrum-half Conor Murray peeled off a ruck and fed Zebo who used his momentum to take himself and opposite number Drew Mitchell over the line.

Despite Toulon believing Steffon Armitage had got back to prevent Zebo grounding the ball Barnes gave the try without referring it and Keatley converted brilliantly from the left hand touchline to bring Munster to within two points of the hosts.

Keatley missed an opportunity to give his side the lead for the first time soon afterwards and the game looked to have shifted once more back into the hosts' favour in the 64th minute when Barnes wielded the yellow card at Earls for tackling David Smith without the ball.

Wilkinson made no mistake with the resulting penalty to make it 21-16.

Despite this reverse it was Munster who turned on the pressure and twice kicked to touch for position than go for goal as they sensed Toulon were rocking even with the man advantage.

Even in defence Munster held their own with a superb block denying Wilkinson a second drop goal with just seven minutes remaining.

However Toulon finally sealed victory with two minutes left as Munster conceded a penalty and the peerless Wilkinson slotted over the kick.

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