|Bristol (10) 32|
|Tries: Randall, Malins Cons: Sheedy 2 Pens: Sheedy 6|
|Toulon (16) 19|
|Try: Heem Con: Carbonel Pens: Carbonel 4|
Bristol Bears won their first European trophy as they beat French side Toulon in the Challenge Cup final in France.
Harry Randall’s try after 15 seconds set the West Country club on their way to their first major honour since 1983.
Powerful Toulon hit back to lead 16-10 at the break but a resolute second-half effort from Pat Lam’s men won the game.
Max Malins’ well-worked try and Callum Sheedy’s boot saw the Bears eventually earn a comfortable win in front of 1,000 spectators in Aix-en-Provence.
The Bears’ famous win came six days after their 47-24 loss to Wasps in the Premiership semi-final, although their season may yet be extended as it was confirmed on Friday that Bristol would replace Wasps in 24 October’s domestic final if a coronavirus outbreak means the Coventry outfit cannot play.
Lam’s side had been without six injured players in France, including star names Charles Piutau (Achilles) and Nathan Hughes (ribs), while captain Steven Luatua was absent because his partner gave birth to a baby girl on Friday.
But they were the better team against a club who were aiming for their fourth European trophy, having won the Champions Cup three times in a row between 2013 and 2015.
The French side also reached the Challenge Cup final in 2010 and 2012, whereas Bristol were in their first continental final, having only won promotion back to the English top flight as recently as 2018.
The match was played on a quick-flowing surface on an artificial 4G pitch, but it was the Bears who made a rapid start as Fiji star Semi Radradra’s pace and quick hands helped set up Randall to score from the first move after kick-off.
Bryce Heem crossed for Toulon in their best spell and the boot of Louis Carbonel kicked them into a six-point half-time lead, although Bristol saw two first-half tries disallowed.
Harry Thacker thought he had scored off a driving maul but replays showed the grounding had been fumbled, not long before Joe Joyce crossed brilliantly in the corner, but his try was also chalked off for a forward pass.
However, Toulon could not stop Malins bursting over the line in the second half and then Lam’s side’s dominance at the scrum gave Sheedy the chances to kick the Bears 13 points clear in the latter stages.
Lam ‘proud’ of Bristol character – post-match reaction
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“I’m extremely proud that we were true to ourselves, that’s all I asked of the boys before the game. I said let’s celebrate who we are, the Bristol Bears, and what that means. It is not just a name, it’s our culture. I also said let’s have no fear in the final and be true to ourselves, and we were.
“When we got to 10-0 a few things started to go wrong and Toulon worked their way into the game and we were down 16-10.
“We spoke at half-time and said we needed to get better at the breakdown and that the opportunities were there if we tidied up our stuff and the boys did that, problem solved, and we came home strong.
“Toulon were big men, they wanted to slow us down but we said it was not about the referee or the opposition, it was about us. There were spaces available if we got out of the breakdown quickly and it made a massive difference. Fair play to the players.”
Bristol Bears: Malins; Morahan, Radradra, S Piutau (capt), Leiua; Sheedy, Randall; Y Thomas, Thacker, Sinckler, Attwood, Joyce, Vui, D Thomas, Earl.
Replacements: Kloska, Woolmore, Afoa, Holmes, Heenan, Kessell, O’Conor, Adeolokun.
Toulon: Cordin; Heem, Toeava, Paia’aua, Villiere; Carbonel, Serin; Gros, Etrillard, Gigashvili, Etzebeth, Taofifenua, Ollivon, Lakafia, Parisse.
Replacements: Soury, Fresia, Setiano, Alainu’uese, Rebbadj, Ory, Takulua, Dakuwaqa.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)