Wilkinson dents Irish hopes
London Irish 13
Jonny Wilkinson steered his Toulon side to a shock victory yesterday that severely damages London Irish's chances of qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
The big-spending French side had a difficult afternoon when they last went on the road to Thomond Park, but they had no such problems at the Madejski Stadium.
Wilkinson did the damage on the scoreboard, but it was South African Joe van Niekerk who inflicted the most harm on the hosts.
"He was the difference between the teams, to be fair," acknowledged Toby Booth, the London Irish coach. "It's fairly evident that their game plan revolves around him, and while we knew what was coming, he caused us massive problems."
The Toulon skipper was involved in his side's only try, combining well with centre Gabiriele Lovobalavu to exploit Irish down the flank and draw the cover of Jonathan Joseph and Ryan Lamb before feeding Rudi Wulf for a simple score that was converted by Wilkinson -- adding to his two earlier penalties.
Delon Armitage pulled a try back before the break, but although Toulon didn't breach the line again, the hosts couldn't bridge the gap, and Wilkinson kicked his side home. Rumours of his decline have been exaggerated, according to Booth. "I didn't see much sign of a decline out there," he said. "One of the reasons we lost is they had a 100 pc kicker and we didn't."
London Irish -- D Armitage; J Joseph, E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau (T Ojo 76); R Lamb (D Bowden 75) P Hodgson (D Allinson 81); C Dermody (capt, A Corbisiero 81), J Buckland, F Rautenbach (P Ion 69); N Kennedy, R Casey (K Roche 77); R Thorpe, S Armitage, C Hala'ufia (G Stowers 56).
Toulon -- B Lapeyre; P Sackey, G Messina (C Loamanu 87), G Lovobalavu, R Wulf; J Wilkinson (T May 87), P Mignoni (L Magnaval 71); S Taumoepeau (B Basteres 59), S Bruno (M Ivaldi 59), C Hayman (M Merabet 81); D Schofield, K Chesney (J Suta 66); O Missoup, J El Abd (T Sourice 83), J van Niekerk (capt).
Ref -- N Owens (Wales).