Sale Sharks 6-17 Toulon, Heineken Cup
Wilkinson boots Toulon to victory
December 8, 2012
Jonny Wilkinson slotted 12 points for Toulon
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Toulon overcame a spirited Sale Sharks side 17-6 at the Salford City Stadium on Saturday in the Heineken Cup.
Filthy conditions at the Salford City Stadium did much to bridge the gulf in class between a star-studded side leading the French Top 14 and one propping up the Aviva Premiership, but the visitors did just enough to secure the crucial points, with winger David Smith scoring the only try and Jonny Wilkinson kicking four penalties from seven attempts.
A second defeat to French opposition ahead of next week's re-match on the Cote D'Azure leaves the Sharks with little hope of qualification for the knockout stages, but their priority is survival in the Premiership and new director of rugby John Mitchell will doubtless be encouraged by today's gritty display. Sale's points came from the boot of Danny Cipriani, who was promoted to the starting line-up following the late withdrawal of Cameron Shepherd through illness and the switch of Rob Miller to full-back.
Miller had a superb game in his regular position while Cipriani held his own against the vastly experienced Wilkinson, but the Sharks were unable to carve out a single clear-cut tryscoring chance.
Cipriani drew first blood in the duel of former England fly-halves, landing a 45-metre penalty after seven minutes to put his side into the lead, five minutes after the Toulon captain had been wide with a 40-metre kick. Wilkinson levelled the scores with a penalty from in front of the posts on 16 minutes as the game developed into a kicking contest.
With conditions worsening in the constant drizzle, Cipriani attempted to secure further points with the boot but was narrowly off target with two ambitious penalty attempts from the halfway line. Wilkinson also fluffed a third goal-kick on 29 minutes but the visitors scored the game's first try immediately afterwards after Smith found some rare space out on the Sale right.
Cipriani kept the Sharks well in contention with another penalty seven minutes before the interval but Wilkinson responded with his second successful kick three minutes later to make it 11-6 at half-time. Sale enjoyed the better of the third quarter but Toulon number eight Chris Masoe broke up a promising move by intercepting Cipriani's pass and his 50-metre break set up the position for Wilkinson to kick his third penalty on 51 minutes to open up an eight-point lead.
That gave Toulon, who included a trio of former Sale favourites in Andrew Sheridan, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Sebastian Bruno, a useful cushion to become more adventurous. They almost scored a second try when flanker Steffon Armitage was driven over the line but he was unable to ground the ball, while replacement scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde had a last-minute try disallowed by the television match official. Wilkinson was wide with a drop-goal attempt but he wrapped up the scoring with a fourth penalty.
And Sale boss John Mitchell is hoping to use the performance as a marker for the rest of their season as they battle to avoid the drop.
"After last week one thing we asked of the guys in order to move forward - we need to basically stay in the contest for a lot longer and we managed to do that," Mitchell said. "I thought we fought very well and also showed more maturity than we did last week. We didn't get frustrated when we lost possession and we generated some exceptional work without the ball.
"I think an example of how much we've grown in a week was the way we defended our goal-line with about 12 minutes to go. It gives you a sign of where we've got to head towards in order to advance in the Premiership. The Premiership is not about being the most exciting football team - it's about being a collective team that's prepared to work together and hang in there. It was a very good collective performance.
"I think tonight we showed it's a good starting point. What we've got to do now is build on that each week."
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