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Freshwater try pivotal as Toulon tumble out

Jonny Wilkinson and his Toulon side will have to wait another season at least for their first taste of a Heineken Cup semi-final after going down to Perpignan in a blood-and-guts encounter so typical of Top 14 rugby, even if the surroundings, at Barcelona's Olympic Stadium, were not.

Perpignan now meet the winners of today's quarter-final between Northampton and Ulster.

With Perpignan five points down after a first half that settled only the nerves, the game took off immediately it entered the second. First, the Catalans took the lead with a try and conversion, both of which had to be confirmed by the video ref, then Johann van Niekerk scored a captain's try for Toulon before replacement prop, Perry Freshwater, settled things, rumbling over with seven minutes to go.

The rollercoaster started with Perpignan's best move of the game, sweeping from left to right through five pairs of hands before Adrien Plante popped up on the outside to dot the ball down, despite Wilkinson's cover tackle. Dean Schofield made the break that put Van Niekerk home, but then the stadium went wild as Freshwater bumped his way over, even if another replacement, Fabien Cibray, did reduce the gap to four points at the whistle.

Having gambled on taking their quarter-final to the Catalan capital, Perpignan came up with a full house. On a day more suited to surfing than scrummaging, the temperature had dropped to around 26 degrees when Wilkinson hoisted the ball into a cloudless sky before getting on the board with his second kick three minutes later. His third caused all sorts of mayhem in the Perpignan ranks, Henry Tuilagi totally unnerved by the swirling ball.

All that kicking earned the England fly-half plenty of whistles, but the din was as nothing to the reception the referee, Alain Rolland, got when he pointed the Perpignan second-row Guillaume Vilaceca to the sin-bin for flying into a ruck head first.

With the near-neighbours knowing each other's game so well, there had been fears the boot would dominate, but Wilkinson kept prompting his runners and the Fijian centre Gabirieli Lovobalavu scampered 40 metres through a hole created by a clever pass, and David Marty helped increase the Catalan head of steam, which finally got Perpignan on the board.

Jerome Porical landed the penalty from wide out on the right, after missing an easier shot from bang in front, to level the scores 10 minutes before half-time, then missed another from 40 metres out before Perpignan earned a second yellow of the half.

This time it was the other lock, Robins Tchale-Watchou, who went to the bin for a high tackle, Wilkinson kicking the penalty from halfway.

Porical replied by landing his second, but then took an age with a clearance kick that George Smith charged down, the Australian pouncing on the ricochet to put Toulon up at the break.

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Scorers -- Perpignan: P Freshwater, A Plante try each; J Porical 2 cons, 5 pens Toulon: F Cibray, G Smith, J van Niekerk try each; J Wilkinson 2 cons, 2 pens.

Perpignan: J Porical, A Plante, D Marty, J Grandclaude (G Hume 58), J Candelon, N Laharrague (J Michel 69), F Cazenave (D Mele 61), H Tuilagi (O Tonita 69), D Chouly, B Guiry, R Tchale Watchou, G Vilaceca (RA Kaireles 58), N Mas (K Pulu 65), G Guirado (C Geli 74), J Schuster (P Freshwater 47).

Toulon: R Lamont, R Wulf, G Messina (F Contepomi 66), G Lovobalavu, C Loamanu (P Sackey 55), J Wilkinson, P Mignoni (F Cibray 59), J van Niekerk (J El Abd 71), G Smith, J Fernandez Lobbe, D Schofield, K Chesney (C Samson 58), D Kubriashvili D Tussac 75), S Bruno (J Genevois 47), L Emmanuelli (S Taumoepeau 53).

Referee: A Rolland.

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