Paris - All Black centre Ma'a Nonu enjoyed a winning Top 14
debut for Toulon on Saturday, but it was unheralded scrumhalf Eric Escande who
took all the plaudits for guiding the star-studded team to a 53-16 rout of
Nonu was paired with France international Mathieu
Bastareaud, the midfield duo weighing as much as Toulon's two props, at a
combined 233kg (514 pounds).
But it was the all-round game management and kicking skills
of the much slighter figure of Escande, 23, that impressed, albeit behind a
dominant pack, with an ever-eager backline outside him in an expensively
assembled team boasting top players from eight different countries.
"It was good," said Nonu, capped 103 times by the
All Blacks, with whom he has won two World Cup titles.
"It's a beautiful crowd out there, good fans. It's my
first game and I felt a bit rusty.
"It's been a long week - I've just found a house! But
we're professional footy players so that's what we do and I hope to play better
Agen flyhalf Burton Francis traded an early penalty with
Escande before Toulon lock Romain Taofifenua leapt over for the opening try
from close range for the home side, the first of five converted by Escande.
Agen kept in the game with a second penalty by Francis, but
Toulon skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was driven over from a lineout after
Giteau spurned a shot at the posts to go for the corner.
Francis nailed his third penalty as a lack of precision from
Toulon allowed Agen to head into the half-time break just 17-9 down. Toulon's
forward power showed once again in the second period, English flanker Steffon
Armitage driven over in exemplary style from another penalty touch.
The visitors, however, hit straight back with an outstanding
try through South African centre Johann Sadie. A fumbled line-out take by
Toulon's Springbok No 8 Duane Vermuelen was spun wide, Sadie giving before
receiving the final pass and riding tackles from Australian pair Drew Mitchell
and Matt Giteau to score a fantastic try, converted by Francis.
After 15 phases lasting more than two minutes, Toulon nabbed
an attacking bonus point when Delon Armitage crossed in the corner after a
smart floated pass from Wallaby wing James O'Connor.
A creaking Agen defence failed to cope when O'Connor linked
up with replacement Bryan Habana, Giteau turning provider for Mitchell to run
in a fifth try.
There was further woe for Agen when their New Zealand sevens
wing George Tilsley was yellow carded for upending Habana, with 20 minutes to
Immediately, Toulon turned the screw, Escande's clever chip
allowing Habana to score unmarked. Escande was then on hand with a deft grubber
that rebounded off the opposite corner flag for Mitchell to get a hand on for
his second try.
Toulon were awarded a penalty try in the dying moments
before Agen claimed a consolation try through full-back Mathieu Lamoulie,
converted by Francis, on the full-time buzzer.