Heineken Cup: Pool 6 leaders Toulon see off Sale Sharks
Last Updated: 08/12/12 9:37pm
Jonny Wilkinson: had a rare off day with the boot for Toulon
Toulon claimed their third straight win in Heineken Cup Pool 6 with a 17-6 victory over a spirited Sale Sharks side in Salford.
The Premiership basement dwellers had been expected to be swept aside by the Top 14 glamour boys, but Toulon were made to battle every step of the way in dreadful conditions.
David Smith's opportunist first-half effort was the only try of the game, while despite a rare off day with the boot, Jonny Wilkinson kicked four penalties.
Sale had to be content with just two penalties from Danny Cipriani and can count themselves unfortunate not to have claimed at least a losing bonus point for their valiant efforts.
Wilkinson had been practising his kicking at the ground at 10.30am but missed his first 40-metre penalty chance from in front of the posts after just two minutes and Cipriani quickly showed him the way with a 30m-kick to edge Sale ahead.
Wilkinson made amends from 10m out then watched Cipriani bounce a long-range penalty off the crossbar and push another wide from halfway, as neither side were able to establish much with ball-in-hand.
The try arrived from another Wilkinson miss on 28 minutes, this time from 45m out. Wilkinson fielded Cipriani's re-start and lofted a high kick which Sale failed to deal with, the ball bouncing into Smith's hands who raced through the defence and slid in to score at the corner.
Wilkinson missed the conversion attempt then exchanged penalties with Cipriani before the half for an 11-6 lead.
Sale spent most of the second half on the back foot but their tenacious defence spoke volumes for the spirit which appears to have been instilled by John Mitchell's arrival.
Wilkinson was forced into attempting a drop-goal as the defence refused to yield - he missed - and had to settle for two penalties to stretch Toulon clear.
Sale's spirit was summed up by Rob Miller as time expired, racing back to his own posts and sliding in to save a certain try when the game - and even a possible bonus point - was long gone.
The sides will meet again next weekend in the south of France when Toulon will expect very different conditions and a chance to show off their footballing skills.
For now they will be content with a firm grip on Pool 6 as they close in on a quarter-final berth, after just their second Heineken Cup win on English soil.
Sale will not be qualifying for the last eight but are beginning to show signs that they can clamber out of the Premiership basement. They may relish a nothing-to-lose outing in France next week.