French giants Toulon survive Bath scare
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Three-times European Rugby champions RC Toulon left it late to claim a 24-20 triumph over Bath Rugby to take control of Champions Cup Pool 5 at the Stade Felix Mayol on Saturday.
Top 14 heavyweights RC Toulon were made to work hard on home soil as Bath Rugby dominated the first half, before Anthony Belleau produced a moment of individual brilliance in the dying embers to clinch a victory that sees the French side take a three-point lead ahead of the rematch in the English West Country next weekend.
Bath Rugby burst out of the blocks as England and British & Irish Lions wing Anthony Watson cantered over to score the first try of the match, which Rhys Priestland converted, adding to his earlier penalty to give the visitors a 10-0 lead 15 minutes into the match.
As RC Toulon began to string phases together, All Blacks international Ma'a Nonu spotted a gaping hole in the Bath Rugby defence and strode home their first score of the match, only for Priestland to restore a five-point advantage for the tourists at the halfway point.
Bath Rugby found themselves under significant pressure in the second half, which told as Chris Cook - making his 100th appearance for the West Country outfit - was yellow carded for deliberately slapping the ball down as RC Toulon attacked.
It would only delay the inevitable, though, as RC Toulon scrumhalf Alby Mathewson crossed in a second try and Francois Trinh-Duc's second conversion of the afternoon put the hosts in front.
England centre Jonathan Joseph thrust Bath Rugby back in front as he jogged over the whitewash and Priestland's conversion meant RC Toulon would need at least a converted try to claim victory.
Trinh-Duc narrowed the margin by slotting a penalty kick, before replacement flyhalf Belleau dinked a deft grubber through the Bath Rugby defence and went on to collect his own setup to score a sensational solo try and claim a crucial win for RC Toulon with just four minutes left to play.
Tries: Nonu, Mathewson, Belleau
Cons: Trinh-Duc 2, Belleau
Tries: Watson, Joseph
Cons: Priestland 2
Pens: Priestland 2
Yellow Card: Chris Cook (Bath)
Toulon: 15 Chris Ashton, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Marcel Van Der Merwe, 19 Facundo Isa, 20 Anthony Belleau, 21 JP Pietersen, 22 Anthony Meric, 23 Juandre Kruger
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Aled Brew, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Paul Grant, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Jack Wilson
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)