Sunday 25 June 2017

Ashton hands Sarries home advantage

Saracens 10 Toulon 3

Saracens' Chris Ashton celebrates scoring their first try. Photo: PA
Saracens' Chris Ashton celebrates scoring their first try. Photo: PA

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

Chris Ashton's try propelled Saracens to a victory over Toulon at Allianz Park in a result that sees both teams qualify for the Champions Cup knockout phase. Ashton broke the deadlock by crossing in the 60th minute to secure the reigning champions a home quarter-final, while Leigh Halfpenny's penalty posted the crucial bonus point that ensures the French heavyweights also progress.

It was a slick finish from the former England wing, who was also involved in the build-up to the only try of the afternoon. Points were at a premium in a full-blooded heavyweight Pool 3 showdown that produced a series of furious collisions and thunderous hits, the best of which saw Michael Rhodes halt Matt Giteau as the line beckoned.

Saracens' Chris Ashton scores a try. Photo: Reuters
Saracens' Chris Ashton scores a try. Photo: Reuters

The closing minutes served up a grandstand finish as Saracens held out two five-metre scrums, Will Skelton brought down Samu Manoa on the whitewash and Halfpenny missed a second penalty attempt.

The half-hour mark passed and neither team had registered on the scoreboard. Toulon were reduced to 14 men when captain Duane Vermeulen was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Nick Tompkins and the deadlock was broken when Owen Farrell landed the subsequent penalty. Rhodes pounced for a turnover close to Saracens' line, initiating a series of drives and a chip ahead from Ashton that pinned the French giants close to their own whitewash, but the attack petered out. Josua Tuisova shoved off Farrell and Jamie George as he rampaged across field but the phase of the match ended with Toulon being penalised at a scrum.

Saracens refreshed their front five and holes began to appear in the visiting defence. Juan Figallo forced a penalty and while Farrell missed the posts, daylight opened between the rivals in the 60th minute. Ashton ran straight and Tompkins continued the move until Toulon were left scrambling just yards from the line, but Ma'a Nonu and Giteau should still have stopped Ashton.

Halfpenny landed a long range penalty. A dramatic climax unfolded, but Saracens showed the resolve to keep out their great rivals.

Saracens' Nick Tompkins and Toulon's Sebastien Tillous-Borde. Photo: PA
Saracens' Nick Tompkins and Toulon's Sebastien Tillous-Borde. Photo: PA

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