Toulon win spot in quarter-finals, Wasps top pool


Mon, Jan 25, 2016 - Page 19

Toulon kept their hopes of a fourth consecutive European Champions Cup title alive on Saturday, but saw Wasps pip them to top spot in Pool 5.

The competition holders won 19-14 against Bath, but Wasps got a bonus point in defeating Leinster 51-10 to sneak ahead of Toulon atop the standings.

Both sides went through to the quarter-finals, but Toulon face an away tie against one of the other group winners.

“It’s a huge satisfaction. OK, we finished second in the group, despite having won five matches compared to Wasps’ only winning four, but those are the rules regarding the bonus points,” Toulon manager Bernard Laporte said. “Anyway, Wasps deserved to qualify. It was up to us to deny them a [losing] bonus point at Mayol and even more so [a try bonus] at their place, but I’m very proud of our team because we’re missing important players, but that didn’t stop us progressing.”

A brutal encounter at Bath could have gone either way.

Australian fullback James O’Connor kicked two early penalties for Toulon before George Ford landed his first for the hosts.

The reigning champions struck first in terms of tries after a Bath mistake.

The hosts turned over the ball deep inside their own 22 and Toulon quickly moved it left for Steffon Armitage to brush off Ford and score out wide.

Another Ford penalty kept the English side in contention, but they struggled to make any significant leeway against the well-drilled Toulon defense.

It was mostly a midfield slugfest, but too often Bath lost field position due to simple handling errors or a lack of discipline. They trailed 11-6 at halftime.

Bath were a transformed outfit after the restart and took the game to Toulon with Anthony Watson finishing off a sweeping team move to score in the corner, despite what appeared to be a forward pass in the build-up.

Bath’s tempo was explosive and they earned a penalty in front of the posts that Ford kicked to give them the lead for the first time.

Almost immediately, Bryan Habana picked off a risky David Denton loop pass and ran in unopposed to score.

Bath were now desperately trying to hold on as Toulon turned the screw, but the tide turned again and Bath rolled downfield before winning a penalty from wide on the right. However, Ford’s effort drifted just past the upright.

O’Connor had the last word, kicking his third penalty, and although Bath had one last attacking chance to win the game, Toulon held firm.

In Coventry, Leinster struck first with a second minute Zane Kirchner try and Eoin Reddan’s score on the half hour brought the Irish province back to 12-10.

However, after that, Wasps started to pull away. Jimmy Gopperth, who finished with 19 points, notched their first try after finding a gap in the visiting defense, while lock Joe Launchbury ran in the second try down the left.

Elliot Daly showed a stunning turn of pace to streak clear for the third before halftime and the forwards forced the bonus-point fourth just after the break with a rolling maul.

The points kept coming for Wasps, with New Zealander pair Frank Halai and Charles Piutau both crossing the whitewash, before South African prop Ashley Johnson rounded off the scoring with the seventh try two minutes from time.

Elsewhere, Ulster kept their quarter-final hopes alive with an eight-try, bonus-point 56-3 victory over Oyonnax, Saracens beat Toulouse 28-17, Glasgow Warriors beat Racing 92 22-5 and Northampton Saints defeated Scarlets 22-10.