A poor performance in miserable conditions saw Toulon grind down Sale Sharks to win 17-6 in their European clash in Salford.
A poor performance in miserable conditions saw Toulon grind down a spirited Sale side to win 17-6 in their Pool 6 Heineken Cup clash in Salford.
Sale frustrated Toulon all afternoon in a gritty performance that will have impressed new boss John Mitchell, refusing to allow Toulon to unleash their explosive backs and competing fiercely in the scrum.
It was also a difficult afternoon for kickers, with Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson and Sale's Danny Cipriani both missing shots at goal, costing their sides valuable points in a narrow first half.
Wilkinson eventually managed to find his form with the boot, finishing with 12 points as David Smith's opportunistic try in the first half denied Sale a valuable losing bonus point.
Wilkinson missed an early shot at goal but Cipriani made no mistake for Sale, giving the hosts a 3-0 lead with eight minutes gone.
Former England fly-half Wilkinson made no mistake with his second opportunity, with pressure from Toulon in Sale's 22 forcing the penalty in front of the posts as the Top 14 side utilised the power from their pack.
Cipriani then responded with a long-range penalty kick but it pinged back off the crossbar to keep the scores level. Another long-range penalty from Cipriani minutes later also fell wide to the right.
Wilkinson continued the trend by missing another shot at goal, struggling with the conditions with the ball falling to the right of the posts.
Toulon though capitalised from the restart, a loose ball being picked up by winger Smith who outpaced Cipriani as he sprinted towards the left-hand corner, sliding early for the first try of the match. Wilkinson duly missed the conversion.
Sale though remained competitive at the scrum and at the breakdown, winning a kickable penalty which Cipriani converted to reduce the gap to two points.
Toulon hit straight back though from the restart, winning a penalty at the breakdown for Wilkinson to convert to leave the score at 6-11 going into half-time.
Sale continued to front up against Toulon's star studded pack after the interval, forcing the visitors into multiple errors before Toulon made the most of a poor pass from Cipriani.
Chris Masoe intercepted and surged upfield to the 22 with Toulon winning the resulting penalty, Wilkinson making no mistake for the first points of the second half.
Sale were unable to convert valuable territory into points midway through the second half as Toulon gradually took control at the scrum, but the Sharks continued to show great promise as they kept fighting.
Both sides struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities in tough conditions as the second half wore on, until Toulon turned over Sale possession in midfield and played through the hands down the right hand side, Smith breaking through to take Toulon up to the Sale line.
A series of drives ultimately led to nothing as Sale replacement Andy Powell held the visitors up over the line, but Sale failed to clear their lines, Cipriani's kick to touch going no further than the 22 metre line. Wilkinson's ensuing drop-goal attempt though fell wide to the left.
A fourth penalty from Wilkinson stretched the lead to 6-17 with five minutes remaining, but Sale continued to battle on, winning the ball on the restart before showing too much enthusiasm at the breakdown to concede a crucial penalty outside Toulon's 22.
From there on out the visitors held on to possession in Sale's half, grinding down the clock before a break from replacement scrum-half Sebastian Tillous-Borde looked to have added a touch of gloss to the proceedings for Toulon.
A brilliant defensive effort though from full-back Rob Miller held the ball up over the line, leaving the final score at 6-17 to Toulon.
For Sale Sharks:
Pens: Cipriani 2
Pens: Wilkinson 4
Sale: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Mark Jennings, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Richie Vernon, 7 David Seymour, 6 James Gaskell, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruise, 17 Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Andy Powell, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Tom Holmes, 23 Charlie Amesbury.
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 David Smith, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Frederic Michalak, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Pierrick Gunther, 20 Nick Kennedy, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 SÃ©bastien Tillous-Borde, 23 Simon Shaw.
Venue: Salford City Stadium
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
Television match official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
Timekeeper: Tony Turner (England)