Toulon make winning euro debut
October 9, 2010
Ospreys' Dan Biggar prepared for impact
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Toulon celebrated their first appearance in the Heineken Cup with a hard-fought 19-14 victory over Ospreys at the Stade Felix Mayol on Saturday.
A late try from winger Paul Sackey and an eye-catching display from fly-half Jonny Wilkinson propelled the hosts to a crucial win in what is set to be a firecely-contested Pool, which also features Munster and London Irish. A second-half try from Ospreys wing Shane Williams and the boot of No.10 Dan Biggar looked to have put the Welsh region on course for a notable scalp but their defensive heroics were undone as a largely subdued Toulon finally sparked into life in the final quarter.
The Ospreys made an impressive start with an excellent chase resulting in a penalty against an isolated Wilkinson. Biggar stepped up and opened the scores with his first successful kick but he was wide of the mark with an ambitious drop-goal attempt a few minutes later. He was granted another chance soon after as the Toulon forwards continued to draw the wrath of referee Alan Lewis - but his long-range effort failed to punish the hosts.
A big hit on Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard by Wilkinson and centre Mafileo Kefu forced a crucial turnover on the quarter hour and an offside penalty against the visitors saw Toulon level things up thanks to the boot of their clinical fly-half. An increasingly assured Toulon drew another penalty just a minute later but this time Wilkinson's effort fell short of the target.
Toulon continued to persevere with a direct approach led by their pack but the Ospreys' defence stood firm, with the whistle also plaguing the home side's efforts to take control of the contest. A strong run from Kefu threatened to cut the Ospreys wide open midway through the half and when he was hauled down a drop goal attempt from Wilkinson sailed wide of the uprights. The wind may have clouded Wilkinson's radar on that occasion but it was definitely a factor when his next penalty attempt drifted wide after Ospreys fullback Lee Byrne had been penalised for not releasing in the tackle.
However, there was reason for the home crowd to cheer when Wilkinson gave Toulon the lead on the half hour, as the Ospreys' penalty count continued to rise. Toulon's lead would have been short-lived had Biggar slotted his next effort after scrum-half Matt Henjak was penalised but his inconsistency with the boot served as a reprieve for the hosts. A rather stilted opening half was brought to a close with an excellent Biggar penalty from just inside the Toulon half. The home side were once again penalised at the breakdown, having lacked the invention to capitalise on their superior possession.
After the break, a blatant piece of obstruction from Ospreys flanker Jerry Collins on Toulon's Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe gifted the home side the chance to restore their lead and Wilkinson made no mistake from straight in front.
The scrappy nature of the contest failed to improve in the early stages of the second half with both sides guilty of unforced errors. As a result it was no surprise to see the boot continue to dominate proceedings and Biggar brought his side level after Toulon's pedestrian pack had ground to a halt yet again.
A mistake by Toulon winger Benjamin Lapeyre as he attempted to field a high ball handed the Ospreys possession in the shadow of the posts, from where they conjured a crucial score. The visitors were thwarted in their initial surge for the line but the electric pace of Williams exploited a defensive lapse down the short side. A trademark step accounted for fullback Rory Lamont before he touched down for the game's opening try. Biggar failed to make it a seven-point score with the conversion and the fly-half's off-day with the boot continued when Sackey was caught pulling back Williams as the winger threatened once more.
Toulon rallied in the final quarter, with their increased intensity sparking the home crowd into life, but a cross kick from Wilkinson went too long for its intended target - replacement Clement Marienval. And Wilkinson was woefully wide with his next drop goal attempt as the game entered the final ten minutes.
Some great hands from flanker George Smith then put Lobbe into space down the short side and when he was hauled down another cross kick from Wilkinson evaded Marienval but was also misjudged by the Ospreys' Tommy Bowe. Play eventually came back for an earlier penalty and Wilkinson brought his side to within two points with five minutes of the game remaining.
And they soon had the lead with the vision of Wilkinson conjuring the opening. A great exchange with Smith in midfield drew the Ospreys defence before the No.10 found Sackey out wide. Wilkinson's conversion from the touchline rubbed salt into the Ospreys' wounds.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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