Wilkinson boots Toulon into semi-finals
April 7, 2013
Leicester failed to break through the Toulon defence
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Jonny Wilkinson slotted all of Toulon's 21 points as they overcame the threat of the Leicester Tigers to book their place in the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
The former England fly-half slotted six penalties and a drop-goal in a virtually flawless display to out-fire Toby Flood and the Tigers and seal a semi-final berth. The two sides had never met in a competitive fixture and two-time champions Leicester were welcomed to pitch to mass jeers.
They handled the red-hot pressure and made the brighter start at the rapturous Stade Felix Mayol. But Toulon fought back to reach the last four of Europe's premier club competition for the first time. They will now face Saracens at Twickenham in the final weekend of April.
Richard Cockerill was able to select a virtually full-strength Tigers team, with Lewis Deacon the only notable absentee. The Tigers demonstrated their early intent with Anthony Allen releasing Tom Croft for a charge down the left. Croft was tackled into touch and a melee broke out between the England flanker and Alexis Palisson as tempers threatened to fray.
Cockerill's men continued to threaten and a Jules Salvi steal at the breakdown allowed Tom and Ben Youngs to surge upfield. Flood fired the Tigers into the lead on 10 minutes, after their pack flexed their muscles at the set-piece.
The England fly-half doubled his side's advantage on 14 minutes and he quickly completed his hat-trick as Dan Cole steamrolled Andrew Sheridan. But Toulon fought their way back at Wilkinson booted their first points after Flood was harshly sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock on.
The hosts continued to grow in confidence and the 14-man Tigers struggled to cling on in the face of Toulon's scintillating off-load game. Wilkinson cut the deficit to three points after the Tigers strayed offside and they were dealt a further blow when Croft limped off with a hip injury.
Leicester did themselves no favours in the second half and within four minutes of the restart Wilkinson levelled after Ed Slater took Steffon Armitage out off the ball. Two minutes later he continued his 100 per cent strike-rate to hand Toulon the lead.
Toulon hammered the Tigers with a succession of powerful attacks and they twice crossed the whitewash only for their efforts to be ruled out, while Wilkinson was wide with a drop-goal attempt. First Mathieu Bastareaud was adjudged to have put a foot in touch after bulldozing his way over in the corner. And minutes later the hosts were again denied with George Clancy ruling that Bakkies Botha crossed with a double movement.
Flood hit back but the hosts were irrepressible in attack and Cole gave Clancy no choice but to brandish a yellow card with a deliberate knock-on which was far more cynical than Flood's first-half offence. Wilkinson bisected the posts from the ensuing penalty and moments later he knocked over his sixth shot from the tee to put the French side six points clear.
Flood kept the Tigers in touch, with his fifth penalty, to set up a tense finale.He also put the pressure on the hosts with a superb touch-finder but Toulon surged down field in the closing stages. They threatened on several occasions to grab the game's opening try but eventually settled for a late Wilkinson drop-goal to seal the win.
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And the plaudits will go to Wilkinson, who said post-match: "It's a great victory for the club. It was a big occasion and this is a first for us. That is why is signed a new contract, for days like this. The joy and desire to play with this team, the energy and togetherness we feel is what has kept me going.
"The atmosphere was a little bit bigger than normal but we deal with similar every week. It's one of the reasons that makes it so difficult to start thinking about stopping playing. It was a phenomenally difficult game and it is no wonder Leicester Tigers are always at the top of the Premiership and reaching quarters, semis and finals of the Heineken Cup."
Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill admitted the defeat was hard to swallow but he had few complaints and paid tribute to his side's display. He said: "We have no complaints over the result and no complaints with the performance. It was outstanding from both sides. It was a good contest and we pushed them all the way.
"We could easily have won, the effort was phenomenal, we never gave up and we were right in it until the end. But Toulon are a very good team and they managed to sneak it."
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