Northampton got the European Challenge Cup off to a fine start on Thursday, tearing Toulon apart at the Stade Felix Mayol and eventually triumphing 56-3.
Northampton were excellent, but more poignantly, their opposition was woeful. The Challenge Cup is obviously not a priority on the CÃ´te d'Azur, but you expect professional rugby players to be able to do the basics. Television monitors afforded us brief glances of the fiery Mourad Boujellal who was... well, suffice it to say he was not smiling. Even with a weaker side, Toulon should have provided stiff opposition for the Saints at home.
Instead they displayed, for the large part, the stiffness of one of the sodden autumnal leaves hanging limply off the trees near the ground. They committed far few people to their own rucks far too slowly, and those who did eventually shuffle in did so far too upright and disjointedly.
The handling from both sides was jaw-dropping at times: Toulon's for its awfulness, Northampton's for its excellence. The same applied to the tackling. Toulon's scrum creaked, Northampton's rumbled. Toulon's line-out... you've hopefully got the picture.
Northampton led 30-3 at the break, a perfectly accurate representation of the mismatch on display.
Toulon even briefly had the lead after a second-minute penalty from Sebastien Fauque, conceded as much through desperation to atone for a couple of handling errors as anything else.
Then the Saints got their act together. First came the tackling, one high one low every time and either of Marl Hopley or Scott Gray immediately on hand to rip the ball. Eight penalties went Northampton's way in the first half, six of them for holding onto the ball in the tackle.
Next came the angles of running outside the forwards, who were bossing the scrums. The first threat came from simple hands in the middle from James Downey and Joe Ansbro after nine minutes, and yielded a 5m scrum. Four phases later, Steven Myler was given at least four seconds too much time by the Toulon inside channel, and his long pass created the overlap which Sean Lamont finished off. Myler's conversion was superb from the touchline.
Next came the counter attacks, as Toulon's weakness deepened and the Saints' confidence grew. From a turnover ball, Ben Foden tore through a gap and past three ineffectual tackles, before feeding Ansbro for the second try after 15 minutes. Myler converted once more to add to an earlier penalty and make it 17-3.
Then came a glut of penalties as Toulon's discipline crumbled completely and Northampton's back row swarmed. Myler landed two more to make it 23-3.
And finally came the champagne. Foden linked with Chris Ashton inside him, Ashton popped to Reihana outside him, Reihana looped a long pass over the heads of two ball-watching defenders to Ansbro, who gave the scoring pass to Paul Diggin - who was on the pitch as a blood replacement only long enough only to finish off the try under the posts after 33 minutes.
Game over, but there was still a bonus point to wrap up, and it took an inordinately long time for the Saints to do it. Toulon got some tight play together - anything that went beyond Fauque was inevitbaly dropped - and Luke Rooney nearly notched his first Toulon score early in the second half.
But the Northampton defence busied itself gamely, with Scott Gray magnificent, and the threat was annulled. Reihana made one searing break but looked to the wrong side for support. A succession of Northampton drives came to nothing when Tom Smith dropped the ball over the line.
But the bonus point did come, and in some style. Reihana ran back a wayward clearance kick, broke the line, and then grubbered through perfectly for Ashton to take and score in the corner after 59 minutes.
Foden scored a fifth, a marvellous solo break, chip, chase and regather, which he spoiled slightly in the moment of glory by landing on the ball and winding himself.
Ansbro scored a second for him and a sixth for Northampton off a turnover with ten minutes to go, which Myler converted to leave Northampton one point short of a half-century.
Dickson brought up the fifty in the last minute, after a move involving seven pairs of hands and not a couple missed tackles. The story of the night.
Tries: Lamont, Ansbro 2, Diggin, Ashton, Foden, Dickson
Cons: Myler 6
Pens: Myler 3
Toulon: 15 Sonny Falconetti, 14 Marc Andreu, 13 Olivier Grimaud, 12 Tusiata Pisi, 11 Clement Imbert, 10 SÃ©bastien Fauque, 9 Anthony Giacobazzi, 8 Fotunuupule Auelua, 7 Thomas Sourice, 6 Soane Toevalu, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 2 Phillip Fitzgerald (c), 1 Nicolas Agnesi.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Muleta, 17 JÃ©rome Filitoga, 18 Sisaro Koyamaibole, 19 Olivier Missoup, 20 Luke Rooney, 21 Damien Vidal, 22 Orene Ai'i.
Northampton: 15 Bruce Reihana (c), 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 James Downey, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Ben Foden, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Scott Gray, 6 Mark Hopley, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Tom Smith.
Replacements: 16 Paul Shields, 17 Soane Tonga'uiha, 18 Matt Lord, 19 Ben Lewitt, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Barry Everitt, 22 Paul Diggin.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Touch judges: Michael Black (Ireland), Richard Kerr (Ireland)
Television match official: David Keane (Ireland)