Heineken Cup Pool 2: Toulon battle to hard-fought 14-9 victory over Exeter
Last Updated: 07/12/13 7:00pm
Toulon moved clear at the top of Pool 2 as they chiselled out a hard-fought 14-9 victory over Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
It certainly was not pretty from the cosmopolitan French outfit - who boasted 825 international caps to Exeter's 40 - but a first-half try from Florian Fresia along with six points from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson, and three from Matt Giteau, eventually proved enough.
A barnstorming start saw Exeter's Jack Nowell almost squeeze over in the corner inside the first minute and, although Toulon did survive, there was the consolation of a penalty for the hosts following an earlier infringement that Gareth Steenson duly kicked.
But the reigning champions instantly hit back with a rare passage of quality on a largely attritional afternoon. South African hooker Craig Burden made the original break, but it was a sublime offload from Kiwi lock Ali Williams that sent in prop Fresia for a try that Wilkinson surprisingly failed to convert.
The former England fly-half was much more precise shortly afterwards as he slotted over a penalty after Ben White had been penalised for failing to release, but Steenson responded with his second on 19 minutes to make the scoreline 8-6.
The Chiefs fly-half was then forced off with a shoulder injury he sustained earlier in the game, but it did not disrupt the home side who were very much in the ascendancy as the game moved towards half-time.
They were rewarded when Steenson's replacement Henry Slade kicked a penalty to move his side back in front and their cause was further aided when Toulon's South African flyer Bryan Habana was forced off with a pulled hamstring.
Exeter led by a point at the interval, but Wilkinson had the chance to change that, only to miss three penalty attempts in the opening 15 minutes of the second period to groans of disbelief from all around the ground.
Toulon very much had the upper hand by this stage as they set up camp in the Exeter half and it required a superb last-ditch tackle from Nowell to force Rudi Wulf into touch as he looked to dive over in the corner.
However, the French side did get their noses back in front with a penalty, although the out-of-sorts Wilkinson ceded duties to Matt Giteau who made no mistake from 30 yards.
Try as they might in the closing stages, Exeter just could not find a way through the big red wall that was pinning them back and, when they threatened to, a handling error invariably undermined them.
With five minutes remaining Wilkinson silenced the crowd's gentle mocking of his kicking display with a trademark drop-goal to move his side out of range, leaving the Chiefs to make do with a losing bonus-point.