A BATTLING and at times inspired performance produced an outstanding result in the Stade Mayol to take Edinburgh to the verge of the Champions Cup quarter-finals. A win or a draw at home to Montpellier on Friday will confirm them as the winners of Pool Five, which they lead again after Montpellier briefly overtook them thanks to a win over Newcastle earlier today.
Even if they lose, they could still win the group provided they pick up two bonus points and Montpellier get none. Or, should a straight loss relegate them to second place, their current total of 19 points may be enough to give them a last-eight place as one of the three best runners-up from the five groups.
The odds on them being in such a positive position seemed slim after they went behind in a little more than a minute, but tries from Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn and James Johnstone helped them get back on top, with Jaco van der Walt adding the rest of the points. Bill Mata was named man of the match, and although the No 8 was tireless as usual with a number of short carries, his break and offload for the Johnstone try was worth the award on its own.
“We invited them into our half a little bit in that first half and they punished us, but the way we played and controlled the game in that second half was probably as best we’ve played,” head coach Richard Cockerill said. “We knew if we put them under pressure we would have opportunities, and to be fair to the lads they took them.
“Credit to the players, they should take a huge amount of pride around what they’ve done today, and it puts us in a great position to qualify. People travelled to watch us, we’ve got a crowd chanting our name, and it’s a club that’s growing slowly.
“We haven’t qualified yet. I want to win next week – I want to try and have a home quarter-final. We’ll enjoy the feeling of satisfaction of winning here, but we’ve still got a lot to do. We’ve just got to keep improving.”
Slow out the blocks
Edinburgh gave away too many penalties in the first half, and Toulon’s first two tries came from awards that were kicked to touch then driven. But the visiting defence tightened up considerably in the second half, conceding just one more score.
That early lead for the French club came when Guilhem Guirado powered his way over after Mathieu Bastareaud had carried on a lineout drive. Anthony Belleau missed the conversion attempt, but it was still an unnerving start for Edinburgh, and they needed some time to settle after that early reverse. Their first multi-phase attack yielded a penalty for offside, however, and Van der Walt was on target from 25 metres.
That score seemed to dispel Edinburgh’s nerves, and after quarter of an hour they went ahead with a superb score in the right corner by Graham. Johnstone made good ground through the middle, then when Jamie Ritchie offloaded out of the tackle, the winger got the better of two would-be tacklers before touching down for an unconverted try.
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The fact that Toulon could not qualify after losing three of their first four pool games meant they felt able to play with real freedom, and they regained the lead midway through the half. An offside decision against Edinburgh led to a five-metre lineout, and when referee Wayne Barnes awarded another penalty against the visitors, Raphael Lakafia tapped and ran. He was halted right on the line, but Facundo Isa managed to finish off between the posts, with Belleau adding the conversion.
Ten minutes on, a fine break from Duhan van der Merwe briefly promised to produce a spectacular try, but the winger put a foot in touch under pressure from Julian Savea. It was a sign that Edinburgh were giving as good as they got, and that was the case with the travelling support too, as the Toulon fans found increasingly little to cheer about towards half-time.
There were further promising breaks from Johnstone and Graham before the interval, then in stoppage time Van der Walt sent a long-range penalty just wide. Cockerill’s team hardly deserved to be behind, they could take a lot of heart from the way they had fought their way back into the contest after that early reverse.
After looking sluggish at the start of the first half, Edinburgh were anything but in the first few minutes of the second, in which they scored a converted try and a penalty. Blair Kinghorn scored the try, collecting a clever kick through by Johnstone. Van der Walt converted the five points into seven, then added a penalty from in front of the posts after the Toulon scrum was penalised. Right on the hour mark another penalty meant another three points for the South African stand-off, increasing the lead to nine points.
Toulon still looked dangerous whenever they had half a chance – and they had more than half a chance when Rhys Webb took a quick tap penalty to initiate a big attack in open play. But the ball was lost forward, and barely 10 seconds later it was down the other end thanks to a superb break and offload from Mata to Johnstone, who scampered clear from just inside the home half. Van der Walt again added two more points.
With nine minutes to play Savea finished off from a Francois Trinh-Duc pass, and although Belleau missed the conversion, the try gave the home team a lift. But they could not get the fourth score that would at least give them a losing bonus, and Edinburgh were able to run the clock down with a fair degree of control.
Toulon: M Smaili; J Pietersen, M Bastareaud, F Trinh-Duc, J Savea; A Belleau, R Webb; J Gros, G Guirado, E Setiano, J Kruger, R Taofifenua, S Mbarga, F Isa, R Lakafia. Substitutes: A Etrillard, X Chiocci, M van Der Merwe, J Monribot, L Carbonel, A Zeghdar, Y Cottin, M Gorgodze.
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Graham, C Dean, J Johnstone, D van der Merwe; J van der Walt, H Pyrgos; P Schoeman, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, V Mata. Substitutes: D Cherry, A Dell, S Berghan, F McKenzie, L Crosbie, N Fowles, S Hickey, J Socino.
Scorers: Toulon: Tries: Guirado, Isa, Savea. Con: Belleau.
Edinburgh: Tries: Graham, Kinghorn, Johnstone. Cons: Van der Walt 2. Pens: Van der Walt 3.
Scoring sequence (Toulon first): 5-0, 5-3, 5-8, 10-8, 12-8 half-time, 12-13, 12-15, 12-18, 12-21, 12-26, 12-28, 17-28.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).