Classy Toulon hammer Munster
January 16, 2011
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson thunders into a tackle on Donncha O'Callaghan
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Toulon confirmed their place amongst Europe's elite with an impressive 32-16 victory over Munster that along with the Ospreys' defeat at London Irish ensured the Heineken Cup newcomers progressed to the last eight of this season's competition.
First half tries from wingers Christian Loamanu and Paul Sackey and a kicking masterclass from fly-half Jonny Wilkinson saw the hosts derail Munster's euro campaign and avenge Toulon's mauling at Thomond Park earlier this season. Ronan O'Gara offered what little resistance Munster could muster in front of a vociferous Stade Mayol crowd until flanker David Wallace crossed late in the game.
Munster were left to rue their indiscipline - with both O'Gara and lock Donncha O'Callghan sin-binned - but in truth they were out-muscled and out-played by a superior Toulon side, spearheaded by captain Joe van Niekerk, that announced themselves on the European stage by denying their Irish rivals a 13th successive appearance in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Early lineout woes for Toulon inside their own 22 were pounced upon by Munster and O'Gara opened the scores after the home side were penalised in their efforts to reclaim the ball. The Toulon lineout was more effective in the Munster 22 a couple of minutes later with winger Gabirieli Lovobalavu going close as a result before the visitors scrambled the ball away.
A big scrum from Toulon served as a warning a couple of minutes later and a strong run form No.8 Joe van Niekerk forced a penalty from a retreating Munster that was slotted by Wilkinson to level the scores. The game continued to simmer and another minor victory for Toulon at scrum time on the quarter hour allowed Wilkinson to notch his second penalty and that gave his side the lead.
There was further concern for Munster when fullback Paul Warwick was caught with a high tackle by Toulon lock Christophe Samson that was not spotted by referee Dave Pearson but a crossing offence by O'Gara was and it was punished by the metronomic boot of Wilkinson. Munster tight-head John Hayes was the next to feel the wrath of the referee at the scrum but Wilkinson's ambitious effort from inside his own half fell just wide of the posts.
Toulon had better luck with the ball in hand moments later with scrum-half Pierre Mignoni conjuring a delicate kick ahead inside the Munster 22 that was met superbly by Loamanu in mid air and the winger had enough momentum to force his way over for the opening try. Wilkinson added the conversion but O'Gara struck back with his second penalty. Munster battled their way back into the contest but were thwarted by a committed Toulon defence and their frustration boiled over with lock Donncha O'Callaghan shown a yellow card for a cynical off the ball challenge that allowed Wilkinson to add to his tally from the kicking tee.
It could have got worse for Munster should Toulon centre Felipe Contepomi been able to make more of a charged down clearance but they did not have to wait long for their next opportunity. A sniping run across the 22 from Mignoni caught Munster napping and although clumsy passes from hooker Sebastien Bruno and Van Nierkerk did their best to scupper a promising move, Sackey was able to scoop up the loose ball before stepping inside Johne Murphy and weathering the tackle of Keith Earls on his way to scoring in the corner.
Wilkinson's excellent conversion underlined Toulon's dominance but a third penalty for O'Gara kept Munster's hopes alive as the sides headed to the tunnel.
Toulon started the second half as they left off with Van Niekerk leading the next foray into the Munster 22 and some more sloppy indiscipline in the form of an offside infringement resulted in Wilkinson's fifth penalty - although it required the Television Match Official to confirm the score.
O'Callaghan returned to the fray in time for the next Toulon lesson at the scrum and some sublime work from Contepomi was then followed by another crossing offence against Munster but this time Wilkinson was unable to punish the visitors. A scrap between Mignoni and O'Gara then escalated into a full blown showdown between the sides with the end result a somewhat harsh yellow card for the Munster fly-half.
A penalty at the breakdown gave Munster the chance to kick to the corner but Toulon were quick to slam the door in the face of their rivals who were too lateral in their approach. While Toulon appeared to ease off there was no let up from Van Nierkerk whose industry drew the next penalty from Munster that ended like so many before it with another success for Wilkinson.
Munster openside David Wallace epitomised his side's refusal to roll over with a strong run into the Toulon 22 and the ball was worked wide to winger Doug Howlett whose desperate lunge for a try in the corner was ruled out by the TMO.
Toulon's response was to raise the tempo once again and Munster had no option but to fight fire with fire in search of an unlikely turnaround. A yellow card for Toulon tight-head Davit Kubriashvili for deliberately slowing the ball handed Munster a numerical advantage but it was the home side who went close to conjuring the next score. Turnover ball found its way to Sackey whose speed and quick feet proved too much for Lifeimi Mafi and when was hauled down replacement prop Saimone Taumoepeau looked to have burrowed over in the corner only to be denied by the TMO.
Munster's pride powered Wallace to a late try in the corner and O'Gara kicked an excellent conversion from the touchline but the game had long since been lost and there was no doubt that this was Toulon's day.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.