Toulon
Bryan Habana, Leigh Halfpenny and Matt Giteau celebrate an unprecedented third straight European title for Toulon.Getty Images

Peerless Toulon have been crowned champions of Europe for the third consecutive season after recording a breathless 24-18 win over Top 14 rivals Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham thanks to a brilliant late try from Drew Mitchell.

Bernard Laporte's record-breaking side, who beat Leinster 25-20 in a nervy semi-final contest on 19 April, won the last two editions of the old Heineken Cup in 2013 and 2014 with respective wins over Clermont and Saracens and continued that unrelenting domination this season in the inaugural European Champions competition.

Clermont were the first team to trouble the scoreboard on an overcast afternoon in south west London, French fly-half Camille Lopez converting two early penalties for a six-point lead after Xavier Chiocci had been penalised at the scrum and Leigh Halfpenny failed to release the ball under significant pressure from Wesley Fofana.

Halfpenny reduced the arrears from the tee shortly afterward, yet Clermont stretched further ahead after 23 minutes when scrum-half Morgan Parra charged down a kick from opposite number Sebastien Tillous-Borde before Fofana claimed possession and easily rounded Chris Masoe on his way to touching down in the corner.

Lopez missed a difficult conversion and the reliable Halfpenny added two more penalties before Toulon grabbed their first try on the stroke of half-time and erased Clermont's lead entirely thanks to the truly formidable figure of Mathieu Bastareaud.

The opening exchanges of the second half were predictably intense, before Halfpenny made it four successful kicks from five attempts with 29 minutes left to play.

Former England full-back Nick Abendanon, who many believe should, along with dominant Toulon back-row forward Steffon Armitage, be given an opportunity to return to the international fold despite the Rugby Football Union's (RFU) stance on foreign-based players, then restored Les Jaunards's advantage with a wonderful piece of improvisation and a gorgeous chip that rendered experienced prop Carl Hayman a mere spectator as he was left powerless to prevent the try.

Ali Williams then saw an effort of his own chalked off, before Australian Mitchell secured victory in stunning fashion by waltzing through as many as six baffled Clermont defenders before putting the finishing touches on a truly superb score.

Hayman, Williams and South African lock Bakkies Botha are all scheduled to retire at the end of the season and this latest triumph was a fitting way for the powerful Southern Hemisphere trio to bow out from club rugby.

"It's been wonderful," Botha said after the full-time whistle. "I feel like I want to call it a day. I know I can go home with the wife and kids and enjoy rugby on the TV.

With several of Toulon's best players reaching the twilight years of their illustrious careers, many may be forgiven for questioning where the motivation still lies for such an ageing squad.

However, with more stellar arrivals sure to be on the horizon under eccentric club president Mourad Boudjellal, part-time skills coach and two-time European champion Jonny Wilkinson believes that a third title will only seek to increase the appetite for further success among the more experienced warriors.

"A lot of the guys are 30-plus but they are driving it through pure desire," he said. "This will only fuel that fire."

The two teams meet once again in French domestic competition at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin on 17 May.

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