Heineken Cup champions Toulon claimed a precious win on the road as they beat Exeter Chiefs 14-9 at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Defending Heineken Cup champions Toulon claimed a precious win on the road as they beat Exeter Chiefs 14-9 at Sandy Park on Saturday.
The result is only Toulon's second win away from home – in all competitions – this season but moves them to the top of Pool 2, one point clear of Cardiff Blues.
But it was far from plain sailing for Bernard Laporte's team as a plethora of unforced errors and some wayward kicking from Jonny Wilkinson – who missed four from five from the tee – left the champions trailing their unfancied hosts going into the final quarter
Toulon scored the only try of the game – via loosehead prop Florian Fresia – but it was the English minnows who led 9-8 at the interval.
RCT got the job done though with a Matt Giteau penalty and a late drop from Wilkinson securing the four points.
Exeter made a great start as Gareth Steenson opened the scoring from the kicking tee just moments after Jack Nowell came within inches on touching down in the corner.
The reply for Toulon was out of the top drawer however as Craig Burden bust clear before Ali Williams produced an outrageous offload to put Fresia over in the third minute.
Jonny Wilkinson missed the conversion but made sure of landing his next attempt, after Exeter were penalised for holding on, to extend the lead at 8-3.
Although the visitors would dominate possession, the rest of the half would be marked by a series of errors and wasted chances by the champs and Steenson cut the deficit to two points before leaving the field with an injury.
Toulon's season was dealt massive blow when Bryan Habana pulled up with what looked like a serious hamstring injury, which ended his European debut prematurely.
20-year-old Henry Slade – on for Steenson – found the target just before the break after Sebastien Tillous-Borde was punished for repeated crooked scrum feeds to hand the hosts a one-point advantage as the teams swapped ends.
The second half was a scrappy affair. With Exeter spending the first 15 minutes of the second period in their own half, they were always likely to wilt the longer the tie went on. Wilkinson though continued to struggle, missing a third penalty in succession as the home side held on.
Toulon found themselves under huge pressure as Wilkinson uncharacteristically missed is fourth kick at goal to leave the men in red trailing going into the final quarter
It wasn't going Toulon's way as the TMO turned down a try after Rudi Wulf clipped the touchline in the act of going over.
Matt Giteau took over the kicking responsibilities – despite the crowd's light-hearted chants of “we want Jonny” – and split the uprights to give Toulon a narrow lead with 13 minutes left to play.
To be fair on Toulon, Exeter never really looked like scoring and Wilkinson's drop in the dying minutes gave his side some breathing room.
Pens: Steenson 2, Slade
Pens: Wilkinson, Giteau
Exeter Chiefs:15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (capt), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Hanks, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Ian Whitten,
Toulon: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Alexis Palisson, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (capt), 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Florian Fresia.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Carl Hayman, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Rudi Wulf, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Jocelino Suta,
Venue: Sandy Park
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell, Nigel Correll (both Ireland)
TMO: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)