Late tries end Exiles' hopes
Toulon 38 London Irish 17
A second-half comeback was not enough to save 14-man London Irish as their Heineken Cup campaign came crashing down at Stade Felix-Mayol.
Tries from Olivier Missoup, Mickael Ivaldi and the boot of Felipe Contepomi put Toulon in the driving seat and the game looked to be over when the Exiles' Sailosi Tagicakibau received a second yellow card on 45 minutes.
But a spirited London Irish kept fighting and drew themselves level thanks to second-half tries from Chris Malone and then Alex Corbisiero. But Toulon turned on the afterburners and scored two tries in the last 10 minutes, through Tom May and Christian Loamanu, to dash any Irish hopes of an historic comeback.
The loss saw the Exiles' European dreams put to an end and their losing streak extended to seven games in all competitions. Former Leinster star Contepomi -- in for the rested Jonny Wilkinson -- opened the scoring for the star-studded French outfit after seven minutes and the visitors were dealt another blow when Tagicakibau was first sent to the sin-bin after 23 minutes.
Toulon needed no second invitation to make their numerical advantage pay and opened the try scoring just a minute later thanks to Missoup. The flanker found a gap from close range and touched down in the corner where Tagicakibau should have been defending. Contepomi converted to give his side a 10-0 lead. Delon Armitage had the opportunity to cut the deficit but he failed to convert a long-range penalty after 34 minutes.
Just before half-time Toulon landed a telling blow on the Exiles. They had been attacking deep in Toulon's half when former Wallaby George Smith won a penalty at the breakdown. London Irish were marched back 10 metres for backchat and Pierre Mignoni tapped and kicked down field.
Paul Hodgson was able to take the ball into touch but from the following lineout Toulon made several drives at the London Irish line and scored through Mickael Ivaldi. Contepomi converted to give the hosts a 17-0 half-time lead.
Irish were dealt another major blow when Tagicakibau was given a second yellow card and he will now face a disciplinary hearing. The first was for deliberately knocking on Joe van Niekerk's pass with Toulon players lining up to score out wide. The second, after 45 minutes for deliberately preventing the player from releasing the ball, came moments after both teams had been warned over ill-discipline.
"I will have to look at the incidents again and then make a judgment on whether they were justified," said coach Toby Booth.
But Irish struck back almost instantly when Malone slotted a penalty for his side's first points of the day. And the visitors continued to defy the odds with a try just moments later. Armitage hit a Malone pass at pace and broke the Toulon defence, and Malone was on hand to receive the off-load and dive over. The outhalf then converted the try to make it 17-10.
Amazingly Irish drew themselves level after 64 minutes when Corbisiero powered over from close range and Malone converted. But just moments later Contepomi danced through the London Irish defence, beating several players to grab a vital try that he then converted. They then broke Irish hearts when May raced clear after shaking off Steffan Armitage, before Loamanu compounded the Exiles' woes.
Scorers -- Toulon: Contepomi try, 5 cons, 1 pen; Missoup, Ivaldi, May, Loamanu tries. London Irish: Malone try, 2 cons, pen; Corbisiero try.
Toulon: B Lapyeyre (P Sackey 60); R Lamont, G Messina, T May (C Loamanu 74), R Wulf; F Contepomi, P Mignoni (L Magnaval 74); L Emmanuelli (S Taumoepeau 49), M Ivaldi (J-C Orioli 56), D Kubriashvili (M Merabet 66); J Suta, D Schofield (K Chesney 60); O Missoup, G Smith, J van Niekerk (J El Abd 33).
London Irish: D Armitage, J Joseph (T Ojo 69), S Mapusua, D Bowden, S Tagicakibau; C Malone, P Hodgson (D Allinson 76); C Dermody (A Corbisiero 50), J Buckland (B Blaney 77), F Rautenbach (P Ion 50); N Kennedy (K Roche 62), B Casey; R Thorpe, S Armitage, C Hala'ufia (G Stowers 49).
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).