STUART BATHGATE @ BT Murrayfield
EDINBURGH not only claimed a bonus-point win against the three-time former Champions Cup winners, they put in what surely ranks as one of the most complete performances in their history. Toulon may not be the force they were when they held on to the trophy from 2013 to 2015, but they remain a world-class side – one which for a long time threatened to fight their way back into the contest. But this Edinburgh team, unlike many of their predecessors, are no respecters of reputation, and they ended up on top in every department.
Bill Mata was a merited winner of the man-of-the-match award thanks to his massive contribution in the loose, but this was above all a team triumph. Ben Toolis, Henry Pyrgos, Stuart McInally and Chris Dean got the tries which produced the five-point victory, but the all-round nature of the display was perhaps best summarised by two thumping tackles late in the game from Simon Berghan on the normally far speedier Julian Savea and Darcy Graham on the much bulkier Josua Tuisova.
After picking up a bonus in defeat at Montpellier last week, Edinburgh have finished the first tranche of European pool games with a highly commendable six points out of 10. There is still a long way to go, of course, but they are definitely in the running, and will look forward with relish to the December double-header with Newcastle.
“To have six points after two games, and having playing the teams we’ve played – we have to be happy with that,” Richard Cockerill said. “It is the best all-round performance we’ve had.
“It was a perfect storm for us – Toulon have had some difficulties and we were at home. But we had to go out there and do it and we did. I thought we played very well: we were very direct and decisive. We created opportunities early on that I thought might come back to haunt us, but that wasn’t the case.
“We have to understand that as an Edinburgh team and Scottish players, that we’re as good as these players if we believe in ourselves,” the head coach continued. “If you work hard good things happen, and we worked bloody hard. If we keep working hard, days like this and the great feeling they have in the changing room just now around what they have done will happen again.
“Today is special. That feeling is special. You can’t buy that. We have to keep building on that – but it is just one game.”
Three points from the boot of Jaco van der Walt were Edinburgh’s reward for a dominant early spell, but they should have added a try to the three points after being camped on the Toulon line for several phases before conceding a penalty. Another chance appeared to have gone a-begging after quarter of an hour when Pyrgos ran a kickable penalty and the drive was held up, but it got going again and after McInally was stopped on the line, a TMO decision ruled that Toolis had touched down.
Van der Walt made it 10-0 with the conversion, and Toulon had still hardly been seen as an attacking force. That soon changed, however, when a penalty to touch gave them an attacking platform within the home 22. Malakai Fekitoa and Savea did the initial damage, and Romain Taofifenua finished off, with Anthony Belleau converting.
But Edinburgh had already seen enough signs of weakness in the French defence not to become downhearted because of that score, and barely a minute passed before they were 10 points ahead again. Mata made some inroads to set the attack going, then Matt Scott made a half-break before offloading to Pyrgos. Van der Walt was on target again with the conversion of the scrum-half’s try, and the stand-off added two penalties in the next few minutes to take his team’s tally to 23 after half an hour.
Cockerill’s team ended the half as they had begun it, on top and threatening the goal line only to have to settle for a penalty once again. Nonetheless, any disappointment was relative, and a 19-point half-time lead was a more substantial cushion than could have been realistically predicted.
Getting the first score was vital if the momentum was to be maintained, and Edinburgh duly did the job four minutes after the restart. Graham, who had been waiting patiently in midfield, made a vital advance to disrupt the defence. The slick recycling continued, and McInally finished off what became another seven-pointer.
If Edinburgh had at times been profligate in possession, they compensated with some superb defence, both in the lineout where Toolis was in imperious form, and at the breakdown where every man played his part. Those qualities were most in evidence for a long stretch of the second half in which Toulon kept plugging away only to be thwarted time after time, and were demonstrated most starkly with quarter of an hour to go.
When Savea was on the end of a big overlap on the far right, he appeared certain to score – especially when Berghan was the closest opponent to him. But the replacement tighthead not only got to the former All Black, he tackled him into touch, with Savea even failing to get close to grounding.
Toulon finally registered a score eight minutes from time when a tap penalty by Bastareaud produced a breakaway try for Daniel Ikpefan, converted by his fellow-substitute Francois Trinh-Duc. But Edinburgh had the last word with a speedy riposte which clinched the bonus point, as Dean seized on a loose ball to score after Toulon had tried to run from deep. Simon Hickey converted to round off a remarkable afternoon.
Mata of the match
Cockerill, so animated during games, never gets carried away in the aftermath. But, asked for a word about Mata – who will soon be playing for Fiji against some of his team-mates in next month’s Test – the coach conjured up a typically humorous tribute.
“He’s a good player, but he’s allowed to play well in this team because there’s a good balance in that back row and there are lots of guys making tackles and cleaning rucks that he doesn’t do. Which is fine, because he has a point of difference. We’ve worked really hard to get him fit and he loves playing here.
“We look after him, and if I had to choose between Vili and the wife then it’d be a close one . . . . Which Vili would win.”
One of those making tackles and cleaning rucks, Magnus Bradbury, had to go off with a shoulder injury and could face some time on the sidelines. It was the one downside of a seriously uplifting match.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, J Johnstone, M Scott (C Dean 70), D Fife; J van der Walt (S Hickey 66), H Pyrgos (N Fowles 70); A Dell (R Sutherland 58), S McInally (R Ford 61), W Nel (S Berghan 54), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury (J Ritchie 46), H Watson (L Crosbie 70), V Mata.
Toulon: H Bonneval; J Tuisova, M Fekitoa, M Bastareaud, J Savea (D Ikpefan 70); A Belleau (F Trinh-Duc 56), A Meric (E Escande 50); F Fresia (X Chiocci 41), A Etrillard ( B Soury 66), S Taofifenua (E Setiano 46), J Kruger, R Taofifenua, S Rebbadj, R Lakafia, F Vanverberghe (J Potgieter 46, R Gahetau 55).
Referee: J Doyle (Ireland).
Edinburgh: Tries: Toolis, Pyrgos, McInally, Dean. Cons: Van der Walt 3, Hickey. Pens: Van der Walt 4.
Toulon: Tries: R Taofifenua, Ikpefan. Cons: Belleau, Trinh-Duc.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 3-0, 8-0, 10-0, 10-5, 10-7, 15-7, 17-7, 20-7, 23-7, 26-7 half-time, 31-7, 33-7, 33-12, 33-14, 38-14, 40-14.