Newspaper article International New York Times

Toulon Rules in Europe Again ; Lineup of Global Stars Helps French Club Repeat as Heineken Cup Victor

Newspaper article International New York Times

Toulon Rules in Europe Again ; Lineup of Global Stars Helps French Club Repeat as Heineken Cup Victor

Article excerpt

The rich rugby club from the home of the French Navy defeated Saracens of London to repeat as Heineken Cup champion with a global all-star roster.

The top clubs will be chasing a new trophy with a different name when the top European rugby tournament gets underway next season, but the main challenge will be the same -- stopping Toulon.

After winning the last two editions of the Heineken Cup, which is ending after 19 seasons, the French giant figures to be just as formidable when it goes for three in a row in next year's revamped competition.

The new format, which will feature 20 teams instead of 24, will do nothing to hinder Toulon's chances of a three-peat. Most of the extra broadcasting and commercial income that the revamped tournament is expected to generate will go to the clubs from France and England, which are already richer than their rivals from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

And none is richer than Toulon. The club from the home of the French Navy is fueled by the millions of Mourad Boudjellal, a local boy turned comic book magnate, and he shows no sign of cutting off the spending that has allowed the club to import a global array of talent. Captain Jonny Wilkinson may be retiring, but next season's recruits include Leigh Halfpenny, the 2013 World Player of the Year who was lured from his native Wales by a huge contract.

The latest proof that there is no more effective performance- enhancing substance in any sport than money came in Cardiff on Saturday as Toulon defeated Saracens, 23-6, to retain the cup.

Its victory brought the Heineken full circle. The last final, like the first one 18 years earlier, was played in Cardiff and won by a French club playing in red and black shirts.

Even the names are similar -- Toulon this year and Toulouse in 1996.

It also means that France finishes with seven championships to six each for Ireland and England, while Toulon emulated the English club Leicester and the Irish province Leinster by winning consecutive cups.

"We came up against an exceptional side today. They were on top of their game," Saracens Coach Mark McCall conceded. …

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