Challenge Cup: Toulon ease into final with dominant victory over Benetton despite early Charles Ollivon red card

Colin Newboult

©PHOTOPQR/LA PROVENCE/VALLAURI Nicolas ; Toulon ; 01/04/2023 ; Rugby Challenge Cup 2023 8ème de finale Match opposant le Rugby Club Toulonnais (RCT) au club sud-africain Les Cheetahs au stade Mayol à Toulon Dan Biggar

Toulon had Charles Ollivon sent off after just six minutes but they still managed to physically overwhelm Benetton and reach the Challenge Cup final with a 23-0 triumph.

Duncan Paia’aua had already opened the scoring when France star Ollivon received his marching orders moments later for a dangerous tackle on Matteo Minozzi.

The Italians struggled, however, making countless errors and barely firing a shot despite having a man advantage.

Toulon duly controlled matters, moving 17-0 in front at the break through Dan Biggar’s penalty and Beka Gigashvili’s try before increasing that advantage in the second period.

Biggar was on target two more times off the tee as the Frenchmen comfortably moved into the showpiece event, where they will take on Glasgow Warriors at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

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This Stade Mayol outfit are certainly not the side that dominated European rugby between 2013 and 2015, where they won three successive titles, but there are still plenty of stars in their ranks.

One such individual is Sergio Parisse, a legend of Italian and French rugby – having spent most of his professional career playing for Stade Francais and Toulon – and his superb kick set up the opening try.

Franck Azema’s men began the game in the ascendency and controlled the match physically, but it was the deft touch of Parisse that created the score as his grubber through was pounced on by Paia’aua.

It was the perfect start from the hosts but their task was seemingly about to get much harder when Ollivon was red carded for a dangerous tackle on Minozzi.

The television match official attempted to take it down to a yellow, intimating that there was sufficient enough mitigation, but referee Karl Dickson was convinced that it was primarily contact to the head area of the Italy full-back.

The whistles of the Toulon supporters rained down, but their team kept their composure and continued to dominate, extending their lead via Biggar’s penalty.

It was to be a 17-point buffer soon after as the forwards carried hard into the visiting defence before Gigashvili went over.

Benetton were making far too many errors and it continued to be an issue for the rest of the half, even though the Italians started to get a foothold in the opposition 22.

They created opportunities towards the end of the opening 40 minutes but Toulon’s defence remained resolute. Gabin Villiere was fortunate to escape a yellow card for a deliberate knock on, but Toulon ultimately deserved the 17-0 advantage they took into the break.

It was a lead they would not relinquish as they barely gave the away side a sniff, often keeping them pinned in their own half.

Toulon waited for the mistakes, which inevitably came, and Biggar added a brace of penalties in the second period after Siua Maile was sin-binned for a cynical off-the-ball shove on Paia’aua.

Benetton became the first Italian outfit to reach the semi-finals of a European competition following their last-eight triumph over Cardiff earlier this month, but their dream was turning into a Stade Mayol nightmare.

Nothing went right for the visitors as the hosts easily moved into the Challenge Cup final against Glasgow at the Aviva Stadium.

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