Toulon make it two from two
October 21, 2012
Jonny Wilkinson slotted 17 points for Toulon
© PA Photos
Jonny Wilkinson's 17 points along with Steffon Armitage's try helped Toulon to a 22-14 win over Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park on Sunday.
The Blues, playing their first European game at their traditional home since 2009, made a superb start when Leigh Halfpenny went over for the opening try inside two minutes. The Welsh side's magnificent defence flustered the visitors, but their power eventually told.
Wilkinson kicked five penalties and converted man-of-the-match Steffon Armitage's try, meaning Halfpenny's three penalties were not even good enough for a losing bonus point for the Blues.
But the game's major talking point involved Armitage's brother Delon, who escaped without receiving a card for a high no-arms tackle on Blues' centre Gavin Evans during the first half. The England fullback led with his shoulder and caught the Cardiff centre, who was stretchered off and sent to hospital for checks, on the head.
While Evans did stumble as he reached Armitage, who has had his fair share of disciplinary issues over the past two seasons, the Toulon man made no effort to wrap his arms around his opponent to complete a legal tackle and it was a surprise when referee George Clancy allowed him to remain on the field.
Prior to the controversy, Cardiff had made a perfect start through Halfpenny. From a scrum on halfway, Alex Cuthbert came round to make the extra man and Ceri Sweeney's cut-out pass freed Tom James on the left. The wing kept his composure to feed inside to Halfpenny who crossed in the corner.
Wilkinson responded with a penalty after Toulon had made a mess of a Blues scrum, and another display of forward power, this time from a rolling maul, yielded a second three-pointer for the former England fly-half. Wilkinson was off target with his third attempt before the game was held up as Evans was treated following his clash with Armitage.
Halfpenny missed the chance to put the hosts back in front while Wilkinson was off target with a drop goal effort as half-time neared. But the Wales back did not make the same mistake when Toulon got over-eager at a ruck 40 metres out and gave the Blues a two-point lead at the break.
Wilkinson put Toulon back in front as he slotted his third penalty within two minutes of the resumption. But Cardiff's tigerish defensive shift continued to throw the French side out of their stride, and another handling error allowed Lloyd Williams to send a kick downfield that ended with Halfpenny hauling down the retreating Matt Giteau to win a penalty, only for a slip to send the ball wide of the uprights.
Wilkinson punished the miss when wing David Smith won a penalty at a ruck 35 metres from the Cardiff posts, adding another three points to make it 12-8, only for Halfpenny to reply in kind with 18 minutes to play. But Toulon landed the killer blow just two minutes later.
Centres Mathieu Bastareaud and Giteau made inroads into the Blues' 22, and Steffon Armitage was the beneficiary as he forced his way over from close range, with Wilkinson adding the extras. Halfpenny trimmed the gap, but Wilkinson's fifth and final penalty denied Cardiff a losing bonus point.
Post-match, Blues boss Phil Davies refused to blame any aspect of their defeat on the referee's decision not to discipline Delon Armitage for his controversial tackle on Evans.
"It was a very robust challenge, Gavin had a bit of a knock and he is okay fortunately. It was a tough challenge," Davies said. "There is more for me to take out of the game than talk about that incident. George Clancy is an experienced referee and we have to respect his decision.
"You can argue it was yellow, red, whatever you want to do, but he made the decision and you get on with it, that was not the reason we lost the game."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The time for tinkering is over - England must nail their colours to the mast in key positions, writes Phil Vickery
"New Zealand-born Joe Schmidt has forged the Irish into a street-smart, well- prepared side," John Mitchell on the Irish renaissance
"I am bored of hearing 'I can't fault the effort'. Let us take that for granted and look for some quality." John Taylor writes
Reports comparing the 2014 Wallabies with their rabble-like predecessors of 2005 are unfair and self-serving, Greg Growden reports