Toulon held in season opener
Sat, 17 Aug 2013 08:25
European champions Toulon needed a late interception try to salvage a 22-22 draw at Montpellier on Friday as their big-spending Top 14 campaign got off to a faltering start.
Trailing 22-12 with 10 minutes left, Montpellier's French international fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc saw his pass fall into the grateful hands of Toulon centre Maxime Mermoz who sprinted half the distance of the field to score.
English veteran Jonny Wilkinson, who finished with 17 points, added the conversion for 22-22 and a share of the opening night spoils.
"We did some good things and some things that weren't so good, but we never gave up," said Toulon boss Bernard Laporte.
"It's a good result as there won't be many teams who come to Montpellier and win."
Laporte added that he was mystified by some of the referee's decisions which saw his forwards regularly penalised.
"I don't understand the nine points against our scrum. I felt the referee blew too quickly."
Montpellier coach Fabien Galthie said his team had done enough to have won the game.
"It's frustrating. Toulon knew what to do to assure the draw," he said.
Toulon had reacted to their surprise Top 14 final loss to Castres last season by flashing the cash on heavyweight talents such as Bryan Habana, Drew Mitchell, Ali Williams and Martin Castrogiovanni.
But none of those started on Friday with only Castrogiovanni on the bench.
Montpellier, who were European quarter-finalists last season and have made the domestic play-offs for the last three years, were worth their early lead which came after just four minutes.
Springbok centre Wynand Olivier marked his French Top 14 debut with a smart, quick pass which released winger Yoan Audrin to dive over for the try.
Scrumhalf Jonathan Pelissie added the extras for a 7-0 advantage.
That became 10-0 courtesy of another Pelissie penalty awarded on 22 minutes when Toulon were penalised for collapsing the scrum.
In between, Wilkinson's normal metronomic accuracy deserted him when his first competitive shot of the season drifted wide of the posts.
Toulon's problems worsened in the 24th minute when lock Virgile Bruni was sin-binned for a dangerous high tackle on flanker Alexandre Bias.
Wilkinson hit the target for his team's first points but Pelissie restored Montpellier's 10-point lead with his second penalty of the night.
Toulon then had a try controversially ruled out in the dying moments of the first half.
Wilkinson released Matt Giteau who sent Delon Armitage away into the corner.
But the try was ruled out for a forward pass by Wilkinson at the start of the move.
Wilkinson remained at the heart of Toulon's most promising forays, however, with an intelligent reverse pass arriving far too quickly for the comfort of Kiwi teammate David Smith who could only fumble the opportunity.
Wilkinson (2) and Pelissie (1) hit penalties early in the second period with replacement scrum-half Benoit Paillangue also finding the target for 19-9 to the home side.
Wilkinson hit a long distance penalty for 19-12 as the game became increasingly scrappy on a humid night.
The game's rhythm was not helped by regular replacements.
Not that Montpellier were too concerned with Paillangue knocking over another penalty for 22-12.
Wilkinson was on target again for 22-15 before his side pulled level through Mermoz's breakaway try with 10 minutes left.
Paillangue had the chance to win it for Montpellier in the 78th minute but his tricky penalty, from inside his own half, dropped well short of the target.
Saturday matches: Biarritz v Clermont, Racing Metro v Brive, Grenoble v Stade Francais, Bordeaux-Begles v Toulouse, Bayonne v Oyonnax, Perpignan v Castres.
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