Pierre Aguillon’s second-half red card for an ugly tackle on James O’Connor proved crucial as Toulon came from behind to beat La Rochelle 18-15 and reach the Top 14 final.

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La Rochelle led a contest in which the points all came from the boot 15-6, only for the game to turn dramatically in Toulon’s favour in the 52nd minute.

Aguillon was shown a red card after he was adjudged to have committed a dangerous tackle on Toulon’s O’Connor, who started at inside centre.

He can have no complaints.

O’Connor landed on his face having been lifted off the ground and turned in mid-air and Aguillon’s subsequent dismissal enabled Toulon – beaten in last season’s final – to mount a comeback and draw level at 15-15.

After Aguilom’s dismissal Zack Holmes missed two difficult kicks that would have re-established a lead for La Rochelle and his profligacy was punished as, after a penalty to Toulon gave them a line-out 10 metres out, Belleau knocked over a simple drop-goal to complete the turnaround.

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Brock James had the edge in the kicking battle with Leigh Halfpenny at the interval, his boot giving La Rochelle a slender 9-6 lead after 40 minutes.

A simple penalty in front of the post and an effort from James from 45 metres out made it a nine-point gap six minutes into the second half.

But the momentum shifted drastically after the TMO decided Aguillon’s tackle was dangerous enough to warrant a red card, Halfpenny immediately converting a three-pointer from 40 metres in the wake of the sending off.

His fourth penalty of the contest cut it to 15-12 and the Welshman, who will not be able to play in the final due to his commitments with the British and Irish Lions, levelled matters 11 minutes from time.

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Having replaced James, Holmes twice failed with kicks from 50 metres out, but La Rochelle still appeared to have done enough to force extra time.

Yet there was to be a final late twist as Toulon surged towards the posts from their late line-out, Belleau keeping his composure to convert a routine drop-goal from in front and book their place in the Stade de France showpiece against either Clermont Auvergne or Racing 92.

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