Paris - Former England great Jonny Wilkinson guaranteed Heineken Cup holders Toulon what could be
a crucial bonus point as he scored their fourth try in a 32-20 win over English
side Exeter on Saturday in their Pool 2 clash.
The 34-year-old former England flyhalf came on with just over 20 minutes
remaining and the match evenly-balanced at 18-13 in Toulon's favour, but took
the game away from his compatriots creating a try and then scoring one himself.
Toulon, who lead Cardiff Blues by two points ahead of the pair's decisive
meeting in the south of France in early January, had got off to a good start.
A swift passing movement down the blindside involving Matt Giteau, Alexis
Palisson and Maxime Mermoz released David Smith down the left wing and he
finished it off in style for their first try in the 12th minute.
Exeter, though, struck back as they won a Toulon line-out and got the ball
out to the left wing where Tom James beat Palisson's high tackle and then broke
Drew Mitchell's tackle before handing off to Don Armand, who brushed aside
Sebastien Tillous-Borde to touch down - Henry Slade converted for a 7-5 lead in
the 19th minute.
Palisson had to go off with what looked like a dislocated left shoulder,
team-mate Chris Masoe had departed a few minutes earlier, and was replaced by
Delon Armitage. Giteau - who was selected ahead of Wilkinson - subsequently
missed a relatively easy penalty but redeemed himself by creating Smith's
second try, although there was a suspicion of his decisive pass being forward.
Nevertheless the try was awarded after a video review and Giteau landed his
first kick of the day for 12-7.
He added a penalty shortly before half-time but Slade replied for Exeter
with one of his own to leave the visitors only 15-10 down at the break -
alarmingly for Toulon the boos rang out as they walked off.
Giteau and Slade exchanged penalties in the opening 16 minutes of the
second-half to leave the game finely-balanced but to the home supporters'
relief Wilkinson was sent on by Bernard Laporte just before the hour mark.
That paid off almost immediately as he produced a great offload to Mitchell
to set up their third try with 15 minutes remaining, the Australian fullback
breaking Slade's tackle before coming to ground five metres out - but the ball
was worked out to replacement prop Xavier Chiocci who crashed over.
Giteau added the extra points to give Toulon a 25-13 lead.
Toulon supporters showered the ground with paper in celebration when
Wilkinson touched down under the posts to give the hosts a bonus point and
Giteau added the conversion for 32-13.
Exeter got a consolation try two minutes from time as Ben White went over
with Ceri Sweeney adding the extras.
"We took more than an hour to get the better of an Exeter side that was
dangerous and came to play expansive rugby," said Toulon head coach
"I am proud of how my team reacted to the tough challenge and of its
effectiveness. We were clinical when we got into their half in the second
Clermont, the side Toulon beat in the European Cup final, look set for the
knockout stages after thumping Llanelli Scarlets 31-13 in Pool 4, taking a
bonus point to boot with Fijian star Napolioni Nalagi scoring two of their four
Unbeaten Ulster, in control of Pool 5, overcame pea soup fog conditions to
thump Treviso 35-3, although they had to wait till the 77th minute for the
bonus point as fullback Jared Payne scored their fourth try.
Ulster's fellow Irish province Munster won in far different circumstances
relying on a try by JJ Hanrahan after the buzzer to edge past Perpignan 18-17
in France, ensuring they will finish the weekend top of Pool 6.
The two-time European Cup winners had looked down and out when Perpignan
scored a try three minutes from time through Tommaso Benvenuti but Munster
captain Peter O'Mahony said his side never gives up.
"That's one of the special ones for a special team," said O'Mahony
of the manner of the win.
"This was a special performance from a team that wasn't playing
European Cup results on Saturday:
Leinster 9 Northampton 18
Toulon 32 Exeter 20
Connacht 9 Toulouse 37
Saracens 64 Zebre 3
Scarlets 13 Clermont 31
Treviso 3 Ulster 35
Perpignan 17 Munster 18
Played on Friday:
Ospreys 21 Castres 12
Glasgow 7 Cardiff Blues 9
Harlequins v Racing-Metro (14:45)
Montpellier v Leicester (17:00)
Gloucester v Edinburgh (17:00)