Saracens held off a Toulon fightback to secure a 31-23 win in their Champions Cup opener at the Stade Félix Mayol on Saturday.
The visitors were full value for their win, outscoring Toulon by three tries to two, and the victory marks the first time Toulon have lost a European game at home.
On his first game back for the European Champions, Owen Farrell slotted an early penalty to give Saracens an early lead in the South of France.
The hosts were quick to hit back with a penalty of their own from the ever-reliable boot of Leigh Halfpenny. It was Saracens who scored the first try of the afternoon on eight minutes with a wonderful finish from Sean Maitland.
The Scotland winger held off the defensive efforts of the Toulon backs to dot down in the corner. Their second was quick to follow. A wonderful runnnig line from Jamie George saw him burst through the Toulon defensive line before offloading to Richard Wigglesworth who scored under the posts.
A second Farrell penalty extended Saracens’ lead to 15 points, before Halfpenny hit back again from the tee. Right on half-time, the visitors scored their third try. Chris Wyles crossed in the corner after some great hands from Itoje and Kruis to give the London side 25-6 lead going into the break.
After half time, Halfpenny kept the scoreboard ticking over for Toulon with his third penalty of the afternoon.
Things went from bad to worse for Toulon when Ma’a Nonu was shown yellow for a dangerous tackle for a dangerous tackle on Brad Barritt. Farrell added the three points from the subsequent penalty.
Saracens were unable to take advantage of the extra man, and were soon at a deficit themselves. After a period of heavy Toulon pressure, Sarries talismanic second row Maro Itoje was shown yellow for entering at the side.
Toulon scored their first try of the evening from the resulting penalty. Some neat pick and drive from the Toulon forwards ended with Levan Chilachava peering over.
As the Toulon momentum built, the Saracens defence began to crumble. With several players down injured, there were no Sarries defenders to prevent Bryan Habana crossing for Toulon’s third try.
With three minutes left on the clock, Farrell stepped up and slotted a fourth penalty to take Toulon out of losing bonus point territory. The victory marks the first time Toulon have lost a European game at the Stade Mayol.
Tries: Chilachava, Habana
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 3
Yellow Card: Nonu
Tries: Maitland, Wigglesworth, Wyles
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 4
Yellow Cards: Itoje, Burger
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Francois Trinh Duc, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Charles Ollivon, 5 Mamuka Gorgodze, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Mathieu Bastareaud, 21 Pierre Bernard, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Romain Taofifenua
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Michael Ellery
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton (Ireland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)