Toulon condemn Ulster to record defeat
Toulon 60 Ulster 22
Steffon Armitage scored a hat-trick as Toulon secured top spot in Champions Cup Pool 3 with a game to spare thanks to a rampant bonus-point win over Ulster.
Eight tries - from Nicolas Sanchez, Bryan Habana, Mathieu Bastareaud, Martin Castrogiovanni, Mamuka Gorgodze and three from Armitage - ensured the reigning champions are the first team to qualify for the knock-out stages.
They have never been beaten in the Champions Cup at the Stade Felix-Mayol and they can now look forward to a home quarter-final.
Ulster number eight Roger Wilson said his side had struggled to get to grips with the home side.
Ulster did manage four tries of their own through Paddy Jackson, Jared Payne and two for Mike McComish to emerge with a bonus point, but Wilson conceded that their defence was not up to scratch in the Pool 3 encounter.
"When you look at the scoreboard it's very disappointing but I don't think that reflects the effort we put in for 80 minutes," said Wilson. "Not many teams will go to Toulon and score four tries but the big negative for us was the defence.
"We tried to get in their faces as much as possible and it worked for a while, but when they get up some momentum and get their off-load game working they are very difficult to stop.
"We spoke before the game about the fact that there was nothing to play for but we still wanted to go out and put our bodies on the line.
"The injuries in the first half were a big blow for us and we don't seem to have had much luck with that recently. We will look ahead to Leicester Tigers next week and we want to finish off the pool on a positive note."
Toulon head coach Bernard Laporte was not impressed with his side's display despite scoring 60 points. They became the first side to qualify for the knockout stages and travel to the Scarlets next week in ominous form.
"Our mission was to secure the qualification and get a bonus point," said former France boss Laporte.
"We can now celebrate and prepare for our next game. There was some good defensive aggressiveness in our last couple of games, but I did not see it today, especially from the 15th to the 35th minute.
"We did not play well during those 20 minutes. This is not good enough and we need to do more. Ulster gave us more space later in the game and we were able to score tries.
"Our backline players got sick with the flu on Thursday and I'm wondering if our lack in rhythm comes from this. I am not impressed by those 60 points, although we are happy because we feel like the crowd enjoyed the game."
Toulon made a blistering start and scored their first try with less than three minutes on the clock when Maxime Mermoz put outside-half Sanchez under the posts.
Leigh Halfpenny kicked the conversion and a first penalty shortly before Ulster forced their way back into the contest with a try from fly-half Paddy Jackson.
Halfpenny added a second penalty before Ulster grabbed their second try when flanker McComish touched down from a driving line-out.
Ulster were then dealt a double blow when Jackson suffered a shoulder injury and, with the visitors temporarily down to 14 men, Bastareaud found Habana for Toulon's second try.
Bastareaud then got on the scoresheet when he rolled his way over from five metres just before half-time to give Toulon a 17-point advantage at the break. Toulon sealed the bonus point on 49 minutes when Castrogiovanni went over near the touchline and it sparked a superb final half-hour from the home side. First, Armitage grabbed try number five before a wonderful passage of play between forwards and backs was finished off by replacement Gorgodze for a contender for try of the season.
Armitage got his second when he was driven over from a set-piece with 15 minutes to go before Ulster salvaged a bit of pride with a third try from Jared Payne.
But there was still time for Armitage to secure his hat-trick when he crossed with two minutes to play as Toulon condemned Ulster to their heaviest defeat in European history.
Scorers - Toulon: Armitage 3 tries, Sanchez try, con, Habana, Bastareaud, Castrogiovanni, Gorgodze try each; Halfpenny 2 pens, 6 cons; Ulster: McComish 2 tries, Jackson, Payne try each, Pienaar con
Sunday Indo Sport