Heineken Cup: Toulon 32-20 Exeter

Toulon (15) 32

  • Tries: Smith 2, Chiocci, Wilkinson
  • Con: Giteau 3
  • Pen: Giteau 2

Exeter (10) 20

  • Try: Armand, White
  • Con: Slade, Sweeny
  • Pen: Slade 2

Champions Toulon went back to the top of Heineken Cup Pool Two as they eventually saw off the challenge of a lively Exeter Chiefs side.

Exeter went in front as Don Armand's converted score cancelled out David Smith's controversial try.

Smith added his second before two penalties apiece saw Toulon lead 18-13.

Xavier Chiocci rumbled over and Jonny Wilkinson secured the four-try bonus point before Ben White's deserved consolation score for the visitors.

Heineken Cup Pool Two

P W L Pts

Toulon

4

3

1

15

Cardiff Blues

4

3

1

13

Exeter

4

1

3

7

Glasgow

4

1

3

6

Exeter played with both the ambition and belief that has characterised their season, but Toulon boast some of the biggest names in world rugby.

They had the upper hand at the breakdown and controlled the line-out to prevent the visitors building up too strong a head of steam and although the hosts never totally cut loose, the class of Matt Giteau at fly-half and the cutting edge of their back three meant the hard work of their forwards was suitably rewarded.

Wilkinson started on the bench but came on in the second half and his try earned the bonus point that means Toulon enter the final two rounds two points clear of Cardiff Blues, whom they host on 11 January in a match that will go a long way to deciding the pool winners.

Exeter started brightly, not afraid to move the ball wide inside their own 22, but it was the hosts who opened the scoring as Alexis Palisson scythed through off Giteau's inside pass and fed Maxime Mermoz to put the stocky Smith over untouched.

Giteau could not convert and within a couple of minutes Exeter went in front.

Jack Nowell almost went over before a sweeping pass from Luke Arscott gave former Wales wing Tom James the chance to power through the attempted tackle of Palisson, who immediately went off after injuring himself as he landed.

Virgil Bruni tries to steal a throw from Exeter's Tom Johnson

Toulon's excellence in the line-out helped keep Exeter on the back foot

Armand was in support of James like all good open-sides to take the scoring pass and Henry Slade's conversion put Exeter in front for the only time in the match.

Giteau soon missed a penalty from a similar position to his failed conversion but made amends with a marvellous break through midfield to set up Smith for his second try.

The pass looked forward from the moment it left the former Wallaby's hands but referee John Lacey was happy and Giteau popped over the extras to add insult to injury for the Chiefs.

A brace of penalties apiece for Giteau and Slade, either side of the break, made it 18-13 and Wilkinson joined the fray just before the hour mark for the injured Smith.

That necessitated a reshuffle in the Toulon backline as the Englishman took over from Giteau at 10, and Wilkinson soon put Drew Mitchell through with an inside pass.

The ex-Wallaby wing was pulled down just short but Chiocci rumbled over before Wilkinson himself scored a rare try, scything over under the posts to finish off another powerful Toulon attack.

Giteau converted both scores as the cash-laden champions pulled well clear, but the last word went to Exeter.

The Chiefs looked as though they would not get the consolation score their energetic display deserved when Arscott produced the latest of a series of incisive runs only to be held up over the line by Mitchell - one of several fine tackles by the Australian.

But they were not to be denied and White popped up on the shoulder of fellow replacement Will Chudley to score a converted try, much to the delight of the noisy travelling fans.

Post-match reaction

Exeter boss Rob Baxter on Smith's second try:

"The ball did look like it went three meters forward. At some stage, someone is going to have to make some kind of a rule.

"It looked forward to me, but there's been quite a few forward passes that have been allowed. It's more of a decision for the governing bodies."

Baxter on the final two rounds:

"Toulon and Cardiff are the two teams in control of the pool, the only way we can justify us taking part in the competition is going absolutely flat out when we play Cardiff.

"We like the Heineken Cup, we like the experience it gives to our players, it's been a great tour for developing the way we play and increasing the intensity of our game."

Toulon boss Bernard Laporte:

"This was probably our best game in a while.

"We'll be lucky enough to play home against Cardiff next month, it's up to us to do the job and win that game."

Team line-ups

Toulon: Mitchell; Palisson, Bastareaud, Mermoz, D Smith; Giteau, Tillous-Borde; Fresia, Orioli, Hayman, Suta, Williams, J Smith, S Armitage, Masoe.

Replacements: D Armitage for Palisson (18), Wilkinson for D Smith (57), Michalak for Tillous-Borde (71), Chiocci for Fresia (59), Noirot for Orioli (65), Castrogiovanni for Hayman (54), Mikautadze for Suta (71), Bruni for Masoe (10).

Exeter: Arscott; Nowell, Whitten, Dollman, James; Slade, Thomas; Moon, Yeandle, Tui, Mumm, Hanks, Johnson, Armand, Ewers.

Replacements: Hill for Dollman (66), Sweeney for Slade (72), Chudley for Thomas (75), Brown for Moon (65), Sturgess for Yeandle (65), Whitehead for Tui (65), Welch for Hanks (54), White for Ewers (49).

Att: 15,400

Ref: John Lacey (Ireland).