Toulon survived the threat of Benjamin Urdapilleta's boot to hold on for a 26-22 win over Castres at the Stade Mayol.
A stellar performance from Leigh Halfpenny was enough to send Toulon through to the Top 14 semi-finals. Despite Urdapilleta leading Castres’ efforts, it will be the 2014 champions who will meet La Rochelle in next week’s last-four encounter.
The crowd didn’t have to wait long for the first points of the evening, as Halfpenny’s early penalty was cancelled out by Urdapilleta’s opening effort to leave the scores at 3-3 after just five minutes.
With the renowned Stade Mayol atmosphere on their side, it was Toulon who were first to cross the whitewash, as François Trinh-Duc’s pass allowed Laurent Delboulbès, to touch down. Halfpenny’s conversion gave his side a 10-3 lead at the midway point in the first-half.
Urdapilleta and Halfpenny traded penalties once more, as the intensity of the knock-out game continued to increase.
A high-tackle on Brice Mach on the half-hour mark allowed Urdapilleta to narrow the gap, the Argentinian fly-half’s third penalty of the half sending the sides in at the break with the score at 13-9 in Toulon’s favour.
It was the visitors that made the stronger start to the second half. Only the TMO could deny Thomas Combezou a try on 48 minutes, before a high tackle on Rory Kockott saw Toulon flanker Liam Gill sent to the sin bin. Urdapilleta made no mistake with the resulting penalty, narrowing the gap to a single point.
With Castres on top, the pressure finally told as Drew Mitchell’s deliberate knock-on left referee Alexandre Ruiz with little option but to award a penalty try. Urdapilleta’s conversion gave Castres a 19-13 lead on 55 minutes.
Halfpenny reduced the arrears on the hour mark, his third penalty of the night bringing Toulon back to within three points.
Just four minutes later, the Welsh full-back was to the fore once again, converting his own try to restore his side’s lead and send the home fans into delirium.
As the game entered its final ten minutes, Halfpenny and Urdapilleta each added another penalty to their respective tallies, with the prize of a place in the Top 14 semi-finals tantalisingly within reach of both sides.
And, despite late pressure from the visitors, it was to be Toulon’s night, to the delight of the home supporters.
Tries: Delboulbès, Halfpenny
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 4
Yellow Card: Gill
Try: Penalty Try
Pens: Urdapilleta 5
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Laurent Delboulbès
Replacements: 16 Anthony Étrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Mamuka Gorgodze, 19 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 20 Anthony Belleau, 21 James O’Connor, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Levan Chilachava
Castres: 15 Pierre Berard, 14 Julien Caminati, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 David Smith, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Loic Jacquet, 3 Damien Tussac, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Antoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Jody Jenneker, 17 Tudor Stroe, 18 Victor Moreaux, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Antoine Dupont, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Julien Dumora, 23 Yohann Montes
Date: Friday, May 19
Venue: Stade Mayol
Kick-off: 21:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz
Assistant Referees: Adrien Descottes, Thomas Déjean
TMO: Arnaud Blondel