Toulon see off Munster
Two-time former champions eliminated in pool stage
Last Updated: 16/01/11 5:56pm
Wilkinson tackles O'Callaghan
Toulon qualified for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first-time with an emphatic 32-16 victory over Munster at Stade Felix Mayol.
In what may constitute a changing of the guard in European rugby, perennial Heineken Cup contenders Munster were swept aside by the wealthy new boys from the south of France.
Munster crushed Toulon 45-18 in round two but the French side were a very different proposition on their own patch, completing a victory which - after bonus-point wins home and away against London Irish - eliminates not only two-time former champions Munster but also Magners League champions Ospreys.
Munster had qualified for the knockout stages every year since 1999 but after two defeats from their opening four matches in Pool 3, they arrived in Toulon staring down the barrel of early elimination.
They needed a fast start and they got it, with Ronan O'Gara kicking a penalty from in front of the posts after just three minutes.
But from then on Toulon took over and were good value for a 9-3 lead in the opening quarter thanks to three penalties from Jonny Wilkinson.
The hosts were dominating up front - so often Munster's speciality - with the Irish side struggling particularly at the scrum.
But the first try arrived on 24 minutes thanks to a moment of inventiveness from Pierre Mignoni, who took the ball out of the back of a ruck and lofted a kick into the corner, where pursuing winger Christian Loamanu leapt and gathered before powering over. Wilkinson added the extras to give Toulon a commanding 16-3 lead.
O'Gara immediately reduced the arrears, but Munster's hopes of getting back into the game were dealt a blow when Donncha O'Callaghan needlessly pulled back a Toulon player as he chased a kick through and was sin-binned.
Once again Toulon made the advantage count by exploiting the extra space. Mignoni made a half-break into the 22, and with the Munster defence struggling back, the ball was swept out wide.
The chance looked to have been wasted after Paul Sackey was forced to take a pass slightly behind him whilst pulling up, but the England winger shrugged off the attempted tackles of Keith Earls and Johne Murphy to reach over and score.
Wilkinson kicked the extras from the touchline and although O'Gara replied with a penalty, Munster were still 17 points behind at the interval.
Wilkinson extended the lead to 29-9 with a penalty shortly after the re-start.
Munster's frustrations were getting the better of them and they suffered a further setback when O'Gara was sin-binned after tangling off the ball with Mignoni.
Wilkinson then extended Toulon's lead before prop Davit Kubriashvili was yellow-carded in the final quarter for deliberately slowing Munster ball, but still the visitors could not make any inroads
They did grab a consolation try through the indefatiguable David Wallace with three minutes left, but that, and O'Gara's conversion, merely put a little gloss on the scoreline after a thoroughly gloomy day for Munster.