Star-studded Toulon labored past the Cardiff Blues for their second win in two outings in European Cup action on Sunday, as former two-time champions Munster ran out comfortable victors over pointless Edinburgh.
Leicester also sent out a warning in their clash with Celtic champions Ospreys, running out 39-22 bonus-point winners in a Pool 2 that also includes unbeaten four-time champions Toulouse and Italians Treviso.
In Cardiff, Jonny Wilkinson kicked five penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 17 points as Toulon ran out 22-14 winners in their Pool 6 match.
The French club’s sole try came from erstwhile England flanker Steffon Armitage as a Blues side inspired by Wales trio Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and Lou Reed battled to keep the home side in the game.
“I feel a lot of pride and a lot of frustration, for 80 minutes we stuck in there and performed superbly well and gave ourselves a platform to potentially win the game,” Cardiff director of rugby Phil Davies said. “But for a bit of inaccuracy and a bit more field position, we could have beaten one of the strongest squads in Europe.”
Halfpenny opened the scoring with a surprise try in just the second minute, making the most of a midfield defensive lapse by Australian Matt Giteau after a nice inside pass from winger Tom James.
Wilkinson made no mistake with a simple penalty after 10 minutes and hit a second soon after to move his side ahead, but the English star pushed a third effort wide, as did Halfpenny with his first effort on the half-hour.
With a stilted Toulon side shying away from much ambition, the home side deserved to retake the lead with a Halfpenny penalty just before the break.
After a turnover, the Blues again put themselves on the front foot, Halfpenny tracking down an isolated Giteau, but slipped as he attempted the resulting penalty.
Wilkinson made no such mistake when next up in front of Cardiff’s posts, but Halfpenny dragged the hosts back into the game with a penalty with 20 minutes to play.
However, the French side immediately fired back, with France scrumhalf Frederic Michalak overseeing a series of midfield attacks and Steffon Armitage eventually crashing over after a break by Giteau, Wilkinson converting.
Going into the final minutes, Halfpenny kicked his third penalty to ensure a nerve-racking finale.
However, a basic ruck infringement handed Toulon the advantage from the restart and Wilkinson booted a simple penalty to wrap up an afternoon the French side made much more difficult for themselves than had seemed warranted.
Leicester left it late against the Ospreys in a belter of a tussle at Welford Road.
England halfback pairing Ben Youngs and Toby Flood each scored a try, along with Manu Tuilagi with his second, in the final nine minutes to give the scoreline an unlikely tilt after a contest that had been close throughout.
A first-minute try from Ryan Jones allied with 17 points from Dan Biggar were simply not enough to undo a Leicester inspired in particular by Flood, who also hit 19 points with the boot including a couple of monster penalties.
“I think Toby gets a lot of unfair criticism,” Leicester coach Richard Cockerill said. “He is a really good player.”
In Munster’s Thomond Park fortress, Edinburgh were put to the sword for the second week running in Pool 1.
After going down 45-0 to Saracens last week, the Scottish team — last year’s semi-finalist — suffered a humiliating 33-0 drubbing to a Munster side that refocused themselves on their traditional strengths up front and around the fringes.
Ian Keatley, deputizing for the injured Ronan O’Gara at flyhalf, kicked 13 points, with scrumhalf Conor Murray, impressive No. 8 Peter O’Mahoney, flanker Sean Dougall and replacement hooker Damien Varley all crossing for tries to ensure the extra point and deepen the concerns of Scottish regional coach Michael Bradley.