Thursday 18 January 2018

Late Wilkinson drop-goal helps Toulon beat brave Exeter

Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson during the Heineken Cup match at Sandy Park
Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson during the Heineken Cup match at Sandy Park

Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, who had already missed 11 points, landed a 30-metre drop goal five minutes from time as holders Toulon moved to the top of Heineken Cup Pool Two with a 14-9 win over Exeter.

However, the game was costly for the French side, who lost Bakkies Botha (cut head), fellow Springbok Bryan Habana (hamstring) and Craig Burden (arm) to injury in the first half.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter kept faith with the same starting line-up that lost 21-16 at Bath in the Aviva Premiership, with the only change coming on the bench where James Hanks came in for Don Armand.

Toulon retained just four of the side that started the 23-0 defeat at Stade Francais in the Top 14, with Wilkinson coming in at fly-half to lead the side and Steffon Armitage coming into the back row.

After a minute's silence held prior to kick-off following the death of Nelson Mandela, Exeter wing Jack Nowell was forced into touch just short of the line. Referee Alain Rolland had been playing advantage and pulled play back for Gareth Steenson to land the opening penalty.

Toulon, victorious just once on the road all season, hit back immediately as hooker Craig Burden made the important break before lock Ali Williams offloaded to loosehead prop Florian Fresia, who bulldozed his way over.

Wilkinson was unable to convert from wide on the right but, when flanker Ben White was penalised for not releasing, the former World Cup winner found his target five minutes later from the left.

Steenson, who took a heavy tackle from Mathieu Bastareaud early on, reduced the arrears just before the midway point of the first half before being replaced by England Under 20 fly-half Henry Slade.

The Chiefs, beaten in their previous three domestic matches, were then forced to soak up a period of pressure close to their own line before Nowell pounced on a loose ball - but the winger's kick ahead was too strong as the ball went over the dead ball line.

Slade quickly settled with an excellent long kick to touch before weaving his way through the Toulon defence. Then, after a couple of phases of play, he appeared on the other side of the pitch - only to be stopped short by Wilkinson.

Five minutes before the break the 20-year-old Plymouth-born half-back nudged the Chiefs into the lead with a penalty from out wide after the visitors were penalised for a crooked feed at a scrum.

Wilkinson attempted a long-range penalty from just inside his own half, with the wind at his back, which fell well short - and a minute later he again failed to find the target.

Just before the hour mark Wilkinson was short with a 50-metre penalty attempt from the opposite side of the pitch to the previous two, then full-back Luke Arscott had to race back to stop wing Alexis Palisson claiming a touchdown.

Wilkinson was stopped just short of the line before Toulon worked the ball wide through centre Matt Giteau and full-back Drew Mitchell to replacement wing Rudi Wulf - who reached for the line but was adjudged by the TMO to have had a foot in touch.

Despite the capacity crowd at Sandy Park chanting 'we want Jonny' Wilkinson handed over the kicking duties to Giteau, whose three points put Toulon back in front to set up a tense final 15 minutes.

Wilkinson found the mark with his late drop-goal and although the hosts battled on they could not find any more points - paying the price in the closing stages when they gave away another penalty when 15 metres from the line.

Online Editors

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