Fast-finishing Perpignan make Toulon pay
April 9, 2011
Jonny Wilkinson was unable to steer Toulon home
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Perpignan booked their place in the Heineken Cup semi-finals with a tense 29-25 victory over Toulon at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in Barcelona on Saturday.
The site of the 1992 Olympic Games provided a stunning backdrop as Perpignan turned up the heat in the second-half to swing a ferocious battle in their favour. Winger Adrien Plante and former England prop Perry Freshwater scored the vital tries for the sang et or, with fullback Jerome Porical landing 19 points to ensure a happy ending for a raucous, partisan crowd.
Former Wallabies flanker George Smith had put Toulon in charge at the break with a try and while Joe van Niekerk's second-half score kept them in touch, they were unable to keep pace with their fast-finishing hosts, with Fabien Cibray's late score little more than a consolation.
The Perpignan faithful cranked up the decibels as their side trooped to the middle and kept the noise up as Jonny Wilkinson opened the scoring with a penalty from halfway after three minutes, the Toulon scrum having got the better of their much-vaunted rivals in the game's first set-piece.
Perpignan dominated the early possession and made inroads territorially thanks to a raking touchfinder from Nicolas Laharraugue. Jacques Brunel's men were unable to exert any pressure at the lineout though and were rocked by the loss of Guillaume Vilaceca to the sin-bin, the 27-year-old lock seeing yellow on nine minutes for a needless charge at Pierre Mignoni.
Toulon found space along the wing thanks to a beautifully-executed grubber by Gabirieli Lovobalavu, who then raised further alarms for the hosts by breaking clean through a gap, left by Henry Tuilagi and Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, only for his support to seal the ball off and concede a penalty.
With Vilaceca poised for a return to the fray, Porical wasted a golden opportunity to level the scores with a penalty in front of the posts. The fullback slashed the ball wide after a break from Bertrand Guiry and Grandclaude had enticed Smith into offending at a ruck.
Mistakes littered the middle stages of the half, with poor handling and kicking robbing the game, played under blazing spring sunshine, of any momentum. Perpignan hooker Guilhem Guirado finally gave the fans something to get behind with a powerful surge just before the half-hour mark, with Grandclaude and Julien Candelon continuing the charge.
Toulon were equal to the challenge and turned the ball over on their line, although Porical was able to draw Perpignan level with a penalty 10 minutes before the break, the visitors' Georgian prop, Davit Kubriashvili, having been pinged for a jab at a smirking Nicolas Mas.
Porical missed another shot at goal on 33 minutes before Perpignan's disciplinary issues derailed their hopes of a strong finish to the first-half. Robins Tchale-Watchou got short shrift from referee Alain Rolland after his swinging arm caught Smith on the chin, with Wilkinson landing his second penalty after 35 minutes.
Sebastien Bruno was penalised for holding on a matter of minutes later, allowing Porical to level the scores, but Toulon wrestled the initiative with the final play of the half as Smith charged down a lazy clearance from Laharrague and followed up to score. Wilkinson missed the touchline conversion to leave it at 11-6.
Porical slotted his third penalty immediately after the restart and Perpignan played with pace and purpose to put Toulon on the back-foot. Julien Candelon was sent flying into space by a neat dummy from his fly-half and Guiry was guilty of passing up a certain try when he failed to gamble on a well-weighted cross-kick.
The hosts did not have to wait long for their try however, with their first successful driving lineout bearing fruit. Cazenave whipped the ball away from the pack and swift hands along the backline fixed the Toulon outside defence and allowed Plante to crash over in the corner.
Porical added the extras, with the help of the TMO, but Perpignan switched off to allow Toulon to snatch back the lead. A short ball from Mignoni found Dean Schofield on an excellent angle and once the former Sale skipper had bounced off the tackle of Mas, he had the simplest of tasks to find Van Niekerk on a scoring run under the posts. Wild celebrations greeted the fired-up Springbok back-rower prior to Wilkinson's conversion, which gave his side a two-point lead on 54 minutes.
Four minutes later Porical passed up his latest shot at goal, but did restore his side's lead with three points when former All Black Saimone Taumoepeau was penalised for offside just after the hour mark. The fullback's next penalty followed crunching hits by Gavin Hume and Guirado, with Toulon picked up for offside in the shadow of the posts, and Perpignan struck the decisive blow through Freshwater with seven minutes remaining.
Having turned over a retreating Rory Lamont inches from the Toulon line the forwards took over, breaking from the back of a scrum and driving the former England prop over from close range. Porical was on target with the conversion to get the celebrations started, with Perpignan's concentration slipping to allow Cibray to step his way over at the death.
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