Champions Toulon got the defense of their European Cup crown off to a scintillating start with a free-running 51-28 victory over Glasgow on Sunday.
However, last season’s beaten finalists Clermont suffered a surprise 13-9 defeat by Top 14 rivals Racing-Metro in an often dour war of attrition that featured a heavy dependence on defense. Attack, when it came, was ragged.
The star-studded Toulon side, bankrolled by comic book magnate Mourad Boudjellal, dominated the first half, scoring four magnificent converted tries for a 34-0 lead over the Scots.
However, it was a tale of two halves as Glasgow gallantly responded with four impressive tries of their own in the second period to claim an unexpected bonus point.
“We worked hard, built pressure and were able to get easy tries,” Toulon center Matt Giteau said of the first 40 minutes, before adding of the second period: “Glasgow started playing a lot more.”
Their victory in the European Cup last season had left Toulon craving more success, the Australian said.
“We’ve got a taste for it now,” he said. “It’s something we talked about today, to get back out there and perform as a team year-in, year-out.”
Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson kicked a seventh-minute penalty just after Glasgow winger Nikola Matawalu had a breakaway try disallowed.
The Englishman was then in decisive action catching an up-and-under and quickly setting the backline free, fullback Delon Armitage crossing in the corner.
It was one-way traffic for Toulon as Maxime Mermoz was next on the scoresheet, the France center merely having to fall over the line after a Josua Tuisova pass following great hands from Matt Giteau and Joe van Niekerk.
Wilkinson converted both tries from the touchline and then another as Chris Masoe went over to make it 24-0 in the Pool 2 match after 25 impressive minutes.
Mermoz crossed for his second as Frederic Michalak, on as a replacement for Wilkinson, played the center in through a weak midfield defense, Giteau hitting the extras and Michalak kicking a penalty on the stroke of halftime for a 34-0 lead at the break.
Canadian back D.T.H. van der Merwe gave the Scots immediate hope in the second period, holding off Danie Roussouw to bundle over for a try converted by Ruaridh Jackson.
Things were soon back to normal when Giteau ghosted through for a five-pointer.
However, Glasgow responded with three tries through Matawalu, lock Jonny Grey and a second from Van der Merwe to make it 41-28 in an incredibly feisty riposte.
Michalak kicked a penalty with Toulon nerves frayed and Giteau crossed for his second try to wrap things up.
In Paris, three Morgan Parra penalties to one from Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton saw Clermont hold a 9-3 lead at halftime.
However, the hosts came firing back with a breakaway Marc Andreu try after a turnover following a scorching break by Sitiveni Sivivatu, the former All Black winger who was one of the sole bright attacking lights on a night of desperate defense.
Sexton converted Andreu’s try and scored a 54th-minute penalty to stretch the lead, Parra missing a straightforward effort in reply.
Racing-Metro’s defense held firm for the remainder of a hard-fought second period, while Clermont had to be happy with a defensive bonus point to begin their Pool 4 campaign.
“It was a good match overall, with a lot of intensity and speed,” Clermont coach Vern Cotter said.