Planet Rugby

Defending champs charge into play-offs

11th January 2014 17:30

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Toulon s Smith David v Cardiff

Powerful finisher: David Smith

Three tries in the space of six minutes early in the second half helped Toulon to a 43-20 Heineken Cup win over Cardiff Blues at Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice on Saturday.

The result secures top spot in Pool 1 and a place in the quarter-finals for the defending champions, with one round still to play.

Five Jonny Wilkinson penalties were enough to give Toulon a 15-13 lead at half-time, though the only try of the first half came from Blues lock Filo Paulo.

It was a very different story after the break however, as three penalty tries - accompanied by yellow cards - set Toulon up for a bonus-point victory.

RCT had to wait until the final play of the game for the extra point though as, not for the first time this season, they went off the boil once the result was secure.

A big scrum and an impressive maul were the key weapons of destruction for Toulon, who forced no less than four yellow cards out of their visitors.

Toulon got off to a fast start as Wilkinson slotted two penalties in the opening seven minutes against a Blues side that had been reduced to 14 men after Chris Czekaj was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on opposite number David Smith.

The visitors rallied though, not only keeping Toulon out despite the numerical disadvantage but drawing level as Leigh Halfpenny found the target with two long-range penalties to leave the scores at 6-6 at the end of the first quarter.

The Blues were forced to make a lot of tackles and two more penalties from Wilkinson restored the six-point gap around the half-hour mark.

But again the Blues replied, this time with the first try of the game. Czekaj got a hand on a clearance Drew Mitchell, Robin Copeland charged ahead before offloading to big second row Paulo, who shrugged off two tacklers to score in the corner.

Halfpenny slotted an excellent conversion to give Cardiff the lead for the first and last time as half time loomed large.

A big driving maul from Toulon led to Wilkinson's fifth three-pointer though, meaning Toulon held a narrow lead at the interval.

The loss of Gethin Jenkins to a knee injury at half time proved fatal for the Blues as their scrum disintegrated. Benoit Bourrust was sent to bin after the first scrum in the second half and a penalty try was soon to follow as the Toulon pack showed their power.

The wheels came off the Cardiff bus as they lost a second man - Ellis Jenkins - to the bin as another unstoppable Toulon maul earned a second penalty try, just four minutes after the first.

Needless to say Wilkinson slotted both conversions as the score raced to 29-13. And against 13 men, there were more points to come from the men in red.

David Smith produced a power finish out wide for Toulon's third try while Wilko's extras took the lead to out 26 points.

But the Toulon machine slowed and there would be no further scoring for twenty minutes.

Indeed, the next try came from the gallant Blues, who showed tremendous fighting spirit to put Sam Hobbs over from short range.

The bonus point came in the dying seconds after a series of dominant Toulon scrums left referee Greg Garner with no choice but raise his arm under the posts for the third time.

The scorers:

For Toulon:
Tries: Penalty try 3, D. Smith
Cons: Wilkinson 4
Pens: Wilkinson 5

For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Paulo, Hobbs
Cons: Halfpenny 2
Pens: Halfpenny 2
Yellow cards: Czekaj, Bourrust, E. Jenkins, Copeland

Toulon: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 David Smith, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (capt), 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Joe van Niekerk, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Pierrick Gunther, 20 Delon Armitage, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Konstantine Mikautadze.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Chris Czekaj, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Dicomidis, 3 Benoit Bourrust, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Gethin Jenkins (capt).
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Down, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Dafydd Hewitt, 23 Dan Fish.

Venue: Allianz Riviera, Nice
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Steve Lee (England), Andrew Pearce (England)
Television match official: Rowan Kitt (England)

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