Ashton at the double in winning Toulon debut

Sun, 27 Aug 2017 20:44

TOP 14 REPORT: England wing Chris Ashton got his Toulon career off to a flying two-try start.

It helped his new team to notch up a 41-14 home victory over Pau to round off the opening weekend of the Top 14 season on Sunday.

Ashton, a convert from Rugby League who holds the European Cup try-scoring record of 37 for Northampton and Saracens, also notched up 19 tries in 39 Tests for England between 2010-14 before falling out of favour.

But the 30-year-old demonstrated that he has lost none of his scoring prowess, pouncing for an intercept try in the 62nd minute in blistering conditions at a packed Stade Mayol, with the pitch temperature hitting 35 degrees Celsius.

There was no trademark "Ash-splash", much to the disappointment of the French commentators, but they were left purring from the restart as Ashton tracked back to bundle a weaving Thibault Daubagna into touch just short of the tryline with a fantastic tackle.

Ashton's second try came just moments later, played in for a routine corner finish by outstanding fly-half Anthony Belleau, who missed just one conversion in scoring from his trusty right boot.

Toulon, with France scrumhalf Fabien Galthie at the helm after going through three different coaches last season, completely dominated territory and possession in the opening quarter.

Belleau hit two early penalties and Pau's defensive frailties were shown up when veteran France wing Vincent Clerc's smart running and offload saw full-back Hugo Bonneval cross for a try on his Toulon debut.

A rolling maul then saw South African prop Marcel van der Merwe popping up to crash over for Toulon's second try.

Pau made it 23-7 at half-time when Pierrick Gunther touched down after a well-worked line-out maul, former All Black Colin Slade converting.

Belleau got Toulon rolling in the second half with a third penalty, but Pau were first to touch down, Florian Nicot stepping past Ashton after a clever snipe by Julien Tomas, Slade banging over the extras.

Belleau was on target with his fourth and fifth penalties before Ashton's try-scoring cameo, a reminder to England coach Eddie Jones of the wing's eye for the whitewash.

Despite managing to rub up various coaches, players and large swathes of fans the wrong way despite his stellar performances for English and European champions Saracens, it was the perfect start for Ashton in southern France under the ever-demanding eye of club president Mourad Boudjellal.

"I feel quite comfortable here," said Ashton.

"I've been welcomed with open arms since I've arrived."

Galthie was left ruing a missed bonus point.

"We started as we wanted to, but we didn't score enough - it's like that, that's the game," he said after his first Top 14 match in charge since December 2014 when he was with Montpellier.

In Saturday's action, reigning champions Clermont slumped to a shock 32-25 defeat at Bordeaux-Begles.

Toulouse snatched a 23-23 draw at Oyonnax in the season-opening game, while Montpellier ran in seven tries in a 48-19 thrashing of Agen for the only bonus-point victory of the day as New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden made his debut.

La Rochelle, who finished top of the regular-season table last term before a semi-final defeat by Toulon, made a solid start with a 19-10 win at Brive.

That game saw a Top 14 first as Brive replacement scrumhalf Florian Cazenave, blind in his left eye, made an appearance off the bench wearing a protective pair of World Rugby-sanctioned goggles.

Stade Francais, who saw a proposed merger with Racing 92 scrapped earlier this year, slumped to a 25-16 loss to Lyon in the capital.
Racing had no such problems, but did need a last-gasp try from Louis Dupichot, converted by former World Player of the Year Dan Carter, to snatch a 25-21 win over Castres.

AFP