Hayman says Toulon treble will be hard to beat

Toulon captain Carl Hayman reckons teams will have their work cut out trying to match his side’s unprecedented achievement of being crowned kings of Europe in three successive seasons.

Hayman’s men defeated French rivals Clermont 24-18 in a thrilling European Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.

Drew Mitchell’s breathtaking try 11 minutes from time, that saw the Australia wing go past six Clermont defenders, sealed the outcome of see-saw contest in dramatic fashion.

Clermont were 11-3 up midway through the first half but a converted try by Mathieu Bastareaud saw Toulon into a 16-11 lead at the break.

Nick Abendanon’s chip-over-the-top try for Clermont just after the hour cut the lead to a point, only for Mitchell to have the last word in a match where Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked 14 precious points for Toulon.

Former New Zealand prop Hayman, for whom this is a final season with Toulon before retirement, praised the champions’ resilience.

“Right to the end it was anyone’s game, that’s finals rugby,” he said.

“From our behalf, it’s good that we’ve been in that position a lot in the last three or four years,” the 35-year-old front-row added.

“The guys know what’s needed and we were able to hang in there.”

As for where Toulon’s third European final victory in a row stood in a sequence that started with a nailbiting 16-15 win over Clermont in Dublin before last year’s 23-6 defeat of English giants Saracens, Hayman was in no doubt.

“I think being the third one, it’s even greater,” he said. “It’s such a difficult competition, especially now with the pools being reduced, it’s a lot harder.

“So it’s a third time, and that will be extremely rare (for any other club to match).

“Teams now have bigger budgets; teams are getting more competitive and more balanced throughout the competition.”

Hayman, capped 45 times by the All Blacks from 2001-2007, is one of several Toulon players, along with former Test locks Ali Williams (New Zealand) and Bakkies Botha (South Africa), who plans to retire at the end of the season.

But despite the loss of three key forwards, Hayman said Toulon could make it four in a row next year.

“I think so. There’s three or four older fellas moving on, but they are being replaced and it will be up to the guys who are staying to move things forward.”

– ‘Rugby legends’ –

Meanwhile Toulon coach Bernard Laporte said Saturday’s success had elevated his players to the status of rugby legends.

“What they have accomplished, it’s something historic,” he said.

“They have become legends, the glory is for them

“You know, we (the coaches) don’t do nothing, we watch, we applaud when we score and we cry when they (the opposition) score,” added Laporte, who cut an animated and emotional figure throughout the match.

For Clermont, yet to win Europe’s premier club rugby tournament and beaten 10 times in the final of France’s Top 14, this was another agonising loss in a showpiece match.

“We are pretty devastated,” said Clermont full-back Abendanon, a pre-season arrival from English Premiership side Bath.

However, the former England international added: “This is a great team, we will pick ourselves up from this and crack on to the Top 14 and hopefully make a final there against Toulon.”

For all their many rugby successes, neither Hayman as a player nor Laporte as France coach won the World Cup.

Asked if three straight European titles was the next best thing, Hayman replied: “Ah mate, the World Cup is the World Cup, but to win three Champions Cups in a row now, it’s pretty special.”

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