Toulon 24-16 Munster
Toulon prove big is brutally effective
April 27, 2014
Jonny Wilkinson has a shot at ending his career with another Heineken Cup medal © Getty Images
Munster will be left to lament their uncharacteristic error count as they bowed out of the Heineken Cup at the semi-final stage for the fourth time on the bounce. Toulon's giants will go to Cardiff chasing their second title in as many years.
It was a pulsating match, a game that did not want for physicality, but Toulon's strength in depth and the deadly boot of Jonny Wilkinson cancelled out a valiant attempt from Munster to stun the raucous crowd in Marseille.
If Wilkinson's career has taught rugby anything, it is that you cannot offer him penalties within kicking distance. He will inevitably punish you. Munster made a rod for their own back in the first-half when errors from restarts offered Toulon easy points just moments after Munster had managed to score some of their own.
With Wilkinson's successful strike rate, errors mean prizes. Twice in the first-half Munster had put their own points on the board but knocked on one following restart which allowed a drop-goal and were offside at the next. Wilkinson inevitably profited from both and the penalty count killed Munster in the end as they conceded nine in the first-half.
Toulon at times looked like they were going to pull away. Bryan Habana was making inroads both on the flank and through the middle as Munster's tendency to go wide at times instead of using Keatley's boot and Conor Murray's box kicks to gain territory backfired. When you are facing a back three of Delon Armitage, Habana and Drew Mitchell, one immediate aim must be to suffocate their space. But for a superb tap-tackle from James Downey, Habana would have probably ended up with a try of his own.
Munster did their best to match Toulon's physicality with fire of their own and stayed in the game despite at times hanging on by mere finger tips. Toulon lock Jocelino Suta did well and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe put in an assured performance at openside - he was unlucky to see yellow in the first-half for connecting with Murray's head when he went rampaging through a ruck looking to steal the ball. Armitage also sent another timely reminder to the England management of his ability and impact from the back of the scrum.
Inevitably it will be Wilkinson who gets the headlines for his assured performance from the tee and in open field but Simon Zebo also deserves plenty of plaudits. During the Six Nations it was defensive weaknesses that were reportedly part of the reason why he was overlooked but he was superb both in defence and going forward. His try-saving tackle on Steffon Armitage in the second half was sublime and he got the try that gave Munster hope.
Coughlan was also heroic at No.8 and his last-gasp charge down when Wilkinson lined up a late drop-goal showcased his brilliant work rate. But that will come as little consolation for Munster, they have now lost four Heineken Cup semi-finals on the bounce. They will be left to wonder what might have been after they failed to execute a five-metre lineout in the 72nd minute and other passes that went to ground.
Toulon too left points on the field but they will now be booking their flights to Cardiff for May 24. There they will find a Saracens team who will offer their own physicality and Toulon will have to tense up and go again. If Toulon do go on to win back-to-back titles it will be their strength in depth that has seen them achieve a feat only matched by Leicester and Leinster. It promises to be a final built on raw physicality and power and a fine finish for this tournament as two grand old warriors Wilkinson and Steve Borthwick look to finish their careers with silverware.
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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.