Tigers got their European Champions Cup campaign back on track this Sunday after dispatching double Euro & defending French Champions Toulon 25-21. Welsh wizard Owen Williams was the star of the show slotting a sumptuous 20 points from the boot, as well as providing Toulon with their first try courtesy of a gift wrapped interception for Springbok Bryan Habana.
Tigers raced in a 13-0 lead after only 20 minutes as the Tigers ferocious defence forced key errors from a harried Toulon team. Fast defence forced Bakkies Botha into a poor pass hacked on by Anthony Allen, Toulon recovered possession but from the ruck Owen Williams charged down Drew Mitchell’s attempted clearance to force a 5m scrum; the reunion between Marcos Ayerza and Martin Castrogiovanni was won conclusively by the Argentinean Ayerza forcing a penalty which Williams simply slotted. Tigers lead was doubled quickly; Castro’s late entry to a ruck forcing the referee to reverse the penalty previously awarded to Toulon.
Similarly the first try was born from Toulon errors. A series of areal ping pong seemed to have been won with Delon Armitage’s excellent clearance but Mat Tait’s hard chase of his own kick forced Sebastian Tilous-Borde into a sloppy pass to a shell shocked Mitchell. The Australian simply went M.I.A. allowing Tom Youngs to sweep onto the ball and set Brad Thorn up for his first try in Tigers colours.
The 13-0 lead was short lived however, directly from the kick off Tigers were held up in a maul forcing a scrum and this time it was Toulon with the penalty which Nicolas Sanchez comfortably slotted. Tigers were now the ones making errors, Jordan Crane’s pass and Mat Tait’s fumble gave Toulon terrific ball under the posts. Were it not for Tait’s magnificent tackle a try was sure to be scored. As it was an inevitable penalty was conceded as Toulon battered at the Tigers line with Sanchez again on the mark.
The scores were levelled when Williams flung his fateful pass, over the head of Salvi, too short for Kitchener it was just right for Habana to pounce.
Williams had also missed a tricky kick from right in front of the Crumbie just previously and missed a further testing penalty on the stroke of half time but made amends early in the second half. Mat Tait’s scudding low kick found touch deep inside the 22, after forcing a knock on in the lineout the Tigers pack roared, marching Toulon backwards at a rate of knots to earn a simple three points for Williams to slot.
The next scrum was not to be so successful. Tigers failed to hook the ball cleanly, the ball ricocheting off the front row’s shins into the Toulon side, Tilous-Borde caught Jamie Gibson unawares leaving Goneva with an impossible two on one to defend. Ironically it was serial offender Mitchell who had the run in for the five.
Facing a tricky touchline conversion on Welford Road’s boggy side Sanchez went under the ball, floating the kick, just, short and wide. This left Tigers within a score and was to prove crucial in the final reckoning.
Tigers were resilient. And ambitious. On loose turnover ball Tigers gained a fortuitous penalty for a high tackle on Ben Youngs. The captain seeing the gap went quickly only a few yards from his line, the momentum gained another penalty and this one could be kicked deep into Toulon territory. Some sure possession rugby was perhaps not so inspired but drew the necessary penalty and Williams made no mistake to ease Tigers back into the lead they had previously held for 40 minutes.
Tigers were really on song now, pinning Tilous-Borde into the corner and gaining the 5m attacking lineout. Tigers’ forwards drove the ball over the line but never fully having it controlled failed to ground it, instead letting themselves be shunted to touch in goal and a relieving 22m drop out.
Toulon then wasted a golden chance inside the Tigers own 22 when they conceded the penalty for sealing off; Williams’ mighty boot bypassed the midfield and gave Tigers a lineout at the other end of the pitch. Tigers were more patient than their opponents, again forcing the clumsy error from the Toulon defence. This time it was Georgian goliath Mamuka Gorgodze getting pinned on the wrong side of a ruck.
Toulon though are not European & Top 14 champions for nothing. Breaking through a quick tap from Ali Williams they played quickly and fluently moving into the Tigers 22 with ease, the move was only halted by a soft offside error from sub Robert Barbieri. The Canadian-Italian flanker was offside after making an earlier tackle giving Sanchez the easiest opportunity to cut the arrears to a single point.
Tigers were calm though, Williams’ low slung kick again pinning Toulon deep into their own half before his up and under was claimed by Scully. The kicking game may not be to everyone’s taste but was executed well enough so that when Bryan Habana risked an early charge at Ben Youngs the penalty was inches within the Welshman’s range.
The drama carried well over the 80 minutes; not only did Tigers make a meal of finishing off the game, requiring a Toulon knock on with 10 seconds left and again after losing that scrum, but also Martin Castrogiovanni’s expletive ridden tirade at Richard Cockerill’s behaviour over his transfer between the two clubs and Delon Armitage’s excursions which seem both many and varied at this point in time.
The off field stuff can wait for another day, the important points from Sunday were the four that Tigers bagged and perhaps the casual one that Toulon took with them too.