Planet Rugby

Champions choke Warriors to win

18th January 2014 16:21

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jonny wilkinson toulon glasgow warriors

Warm welcome: Jonny Wilkinson

Reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon ground down Glasgow Warriors to triumph 15-8 at a rain-soaked Scotstoun on Saturday.

The reigning champions arrived in Scotland with their place in the next round already secure, while the hosts were seeking to end a European campaign that failed to live up to expectations on a high.

The Warriors' chief criticism over the past two seasons, where they have made the PRO12 play-offs, has been their failure to replicate domestic form on the continental stage. This year has been no different; two disappointing losses to Cardiff Blues putting paid to their quarter-final target.

The weather conditions in the west of Scotland did not bode well for free-flowing rugby; with soggy Scotstoun a far cry from the French Riviera Toulon call home. It was the champions who favoured a forward-oriented game, though, as Glasgow persisted with the offloading gameplay that characterises their PRO12 style.

As one might expect from an eight that included the likes of Steffon Armitage, Carl Hayman and Juan Smith, the visitors' pack looked typically powerful going forward, but the Warriors' defence remained solid; head coach Gregor Townsend's main area of concern his side's refusal to deviate from that offloading rugby, costing them possession when ambitious passes failed to go to hand.

Jonny Wilkinson was given a predictably warm welcome by the home crowd, as he missed an early penalty; but it was one of the fans' favourites, Stuart Hogg, who lit up proceedings with a searing break downfield, and what have been a scoring pass to Niko Matawalu went behind the Fijian, who juggled awkwardly before he was reined in by Drew Mitchell.

Wilkinson opened the scoring with a three-pointer just shy of the half-hour mark, but it was cancelled out minutes later by opposite number Ruaridh Jackson following a dancing midfield run and offload from Hogg.

It was the full-back's booming punt that led to Wilkinson's second penalty, however, his kick bobbling over the dead ball line, and Toulon drawing an infringement at the resultant scrum.

The second half began in similar fashion, as the holders' pack marched Glasgow back on their own 22, winning another scrum penalty, and a simple three points for Wilkinson.

And it proved to be something of a recurring theme, Wilkinson slotting his fourth on 52 minutes from a further set-piece transgression, with home tighthead Moray Low buckling under the pressure of the gargantuan Andrew Sheridan.

Referee JP Doyle reduced Toulon to 14 men soon after, as scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde took out Sean Maitland after the winger's chip ahead. But extrovert Matawalu rightly joined him less than two minutes later, deliberately batting forward an offload from charging hooker Craig Burden.

From that penalty, Wilkinson extended his side's lead to twelve points, as Toulon continued to suffocate Glasgow through dominance in the tight and powerful ball-carrying in the loose.

But the hosts exerted great pressure on the French outfit's line; first through a driving maul that looked to be halted illegally as it trampled forwards, then in charging down Wilkinson's attempted clearance.

They got their reward in bizarre fashion, a scrappy series of play in the in-goal area seeing lively openside Chris Fusaro dive over a ruck to ground the unprotected ball. Substitute Duncan Weir's conversion slipped wide, however, leaving Glasgow a seven-point gap to bridge.

With fifteen minutes left on the clock, Scotland international Richie Vernon emerged from the bench for his first professional appearance since switching from the back-row to centre; replacing Matawalu on the wing.

And after Wilkinson missed a chance to put Toulon more than a converted score ahead, Vernon, sporting a more svelte physique, made his mark out wide; Ryan Wilson sending him scampering fifty metres up the touchline, igniting the home crowd.

From that run, Glasgow pummelled the champions' line; Weir kicking a penalty to the corner following over twenty phases of play. But huge credit must go to the Toulon rearguard, halting what appeared to be a twelve-man driving maul from the hosts, and repelling repeated carries from the Warriors' pack.

The win was a hallmark of the pragmatism and ballast of Toulon under boss Bernard Laporte, and it ensured the visitors a quarter-final at their Stade Felix-Mayol stronghold; an ominous proposition for whomever must make that trip.

The scorers:

For Glasgow:
Try: Fusaro
Pen: Jackson
Yellow Card: Matawalu

For Toulon:
Pens: Wilkinson 5
Yellow Card: Tillous-Borde

The teams:

Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Chris Fusaro (capt), 6 James Eddie, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Moray Low, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Ed Kalman, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 Tyrone Holmes, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Richie Vernon.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 David Smith, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (c), 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 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Rudi Wulf, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Konstantine Mikautadze.

Referee: JP Doyle (Eng)

By Jamie Lyall
@JLyall93

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