London Irish 13-19 Toulon, Heineken Cup, December 12
Wilkinson steers Toulon to away win
December 12, 2010
Toulon winger Rudi Wulf races clear to score during the clash at the Madejski Stadium
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Toulon kept their Heineken Cup hopes alive with what could prove to be a priceless 19-13 away victory over Pool 3 rivals London Irish at Madejski Stadium.
A try from winger Rudi Wulf and a commanding display from fly-half Jonny Wilkinson who kicked 14 points ensured the Top 14 side kept in touch with pool leaders Munster who cemented their place at the top of ultra-competitive Pool 3 with victory over Ospreys earlier in the day. A try from fullback Delon Armitage, the conversion plus a penalty from No.10 Ryan Lamb and a further three points from Dan Bowden were not enough to stop an Irish side lacking in confidence from slumping to back-to-back defeats in this season's competition.
Irish claimed a minor victory at and early scrum and continued to dictate proceedings in the opening minutes and their endeavour was rewarded with a penalty but Lamb pushed his first effort wide of the posts.
Undeterred they continued to press but their lack of precision proved their downfall on more than one occasion. And Toulon capitalised with man of the match Joe van Niekerk leading the charge before a tackle from Irish hooker James Buckland forced the ball from Wilkinson's grasp as he latched onto a neat chip through by scrum-half Pierre Mignoni. Pressure at the resulting scrum earned Toulon a penalty and Wilkinson slotted the kick to open the scores. And when Irish scrum-half Paul Hodgson was isolated a few minutes later, Wilkinson had no trouble in doubling his side's lead.
A superb break from Van Niekerk then split the Irish defence wide open and he found support in the form of wing Paul Sackey but a knock on from flanker Joe El Abd brought an end to an otherwise promising move. But they were soon pressing again with Van Niekerk again involved and this time the Toulon skipper combined well with centre Gabirieli Lovobalavu to exploit Irish down the flank and draw the cover of Irish wing Jonathan Joseph and Lamb before feeding Wulf for a simple score that was converted by Wilkinson.
A punch from Irish fullback Delon Armitage - that failed to catch Toulon hooker Sebastien Bruno - then highlighted the home side's increasing frustration and triggered a word of warning to both captains about the conduct of their players.
Irish appeared to lack ideas in attack and Lamb's mis-firing boot did not help matters but a superb counter attack brought them back into the game. Wing Sailosi Tagicakibau conjured a timely interception inside his own 22 before sparking a break with the help of Armitage, centre Elvis Seveali'i and Joseph who was hauled down on half way. Armitage then loomed up in support again and kicked the ball on before winning the chase and claiming the score that was converted by Lamb.
Wilkinson was wide with a drop goal attempt just before the break but his side still held a significant advantage as the teams headed into the break.
Irish looked to step things up at the start of the second half but met a Toulon side equally determined to raise their game. A great tackle from Exiles flanker Steffon Armitage snuffed out one promising passage of play from Toulon but the home side were soon stretched again with Wilkinson, Lovobalavu and Messina all heavily involved as the visitors powered into the Irish 22. Then Hodgson was extremely lucky to get away with an off-the-ball tackle on Sackey that prevented the Toulon winger from chasing down a tantalising chip through and claiming a try.
Irish weathered that storm and Toulon's determination to put pace on the ball soon gifted the hosts a turnover on their rivals' 22. And although they were denied by some scrambling defence play was called back for a penalty that Lamb kicked to bring his side within three points just short of the hour mark. An offside penalty against Toulon then offered Lamb the chance to level the scores but his long-range effort fell just wide of the left-hand upright. However, Wilkinson made no mistake when an infringement by Steffon Armitage at the breakdown allowed him the chance to notch his third penalty.
Forced to chase the game, Irish were almost caught by a Toulon counter with Messina leading the kick and chase after the ball was allowed to bounce on half way. But the Toulon centre knocked on as he attempted to ground the ball with Steffon Armitage doing just enough to avert the danger.
Toulon almost wrapped the game up with five minutes to go when a kick ahead from Irish centre Seilala Mapusa was charged down but Wulf knocked on under pressure as he looked to claim a speculative pass inside by replacement Laurent Magnaval. But the contest was as good as over a couple of minutes later when Wilkinson once again bisected the posts after his forwards' industry had earned a crucial penalty in the Irish 22. An offside penalty allowed replacement Dan Bowden to bring his side back into bonus point range but that was as close as they would get as Toulon closed out a deserved win.
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