Brave Irish denied
14-man Exiles haul themselves level but crumble late on
Last Updated: 18/12/10 6:33pm
Olivier Missoup scores for Toulon
London Irish produced a stirring second-half fightback but ultimately succumbed to Toulon's extra firepower at Stade Felix-Mayol.
Reduced to 14-men after Sailosi Tagicakibau received a second yellow card on 45 minutes and trailing 17-0, the visitors looked down and out.
But somehow they rallied, hauling themselves back on level terms thanks to tries from Chris Malone and Alex Corbisiero.
But their efforts proved in vain as Toulon crossed three times in the last 12 minutes through Felipe Contepomi, Tom May and Christian Loamanu, to dash any Irish hopes of an historic comeback in Pool Three.
Toulon stay on course for the quarter-finals on top of the Pool, but a seventh straight defeat in all competitions - albeit an heroic one - ended the Exiles' hopes of progressing.
Contepomi opened the scoring for the French outfit after seven minutes and the visitors were dealt another blow when Tagicakibau was sent to the sin-bin after 23 minutes.
Toulon needed no second invitation to make their numerical advantage pay and opened the try scoring just a minute later thanks to Olivier Missoup, as the flanker found a gap from close range and touched down in the corner. Contepomi converted to give his side a 10-0 lead.
Delon Armitage had the opportunity to cut the deficit but he failed to convert a long range penalty after 34 minutes.
Irish looked set to survive to the half with just a 10-point deficit, but in injury time Toulon landed a crucial blow.
Paul Hodgson was forced into touch close to his own line and the Toulon pack made several drives at the London Irish line before Mickael Ivaldi crashed over. Contepomi converted to give the hosts a 17-0 half-time lead.
Defy the odds
Despite the loss of Tagicakibau, Irish quickly struck back when Malone slotted a penalty for his side's first points of the day.
And the visitors continued to defy the odds with a try just moments later. Armitage hit a Malone pass at pace and broke the Toulon defence, offloading brilliantly for Malone to collect the return pass and dive over, with the fly-half converting his own score.
Irish were in dreamland after 64 minutes when Corbisiero powered through two defenders from close range and Malone converted to level it.
But their delight lasted just a couple of minutes after Malone kicked out on the full. That mistake set up Toulon's first real attacking position of the half and Contepomi took advantage with a darting run through the London Irish defence, beating three defenders to grab a fine individual score which he then converted.
That seemed to knock the fight out of Irish. In the final 10 minutes May raced clear after shaking off Steffan Armitage for the bonus point try and Loamanu hammered home the blow in the closing stages.