Heineken Cup Pool 2: Toulon claim 32-20 bonus-point victory over Exeter
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK. Last Updated: 14/12/13 11:43pm
Toulon reclaimed top spot in Pool 2 of the Heineken Cup, and took a big step towards the quarter-finals, with a 32-20 bonus-point victory over Exeter at the Stade Mayol on Saturday.
The French outfit boast an unbeaten home record in competition, but Exeter gave them plenty to think about for the first hour before replacement Jonny Wilkinson inspired a powerful finish from the defending champions to take the contest away from their opponents.
David Smith (two), Xavier Chiocci and Wilkinson himself touched down for Toulon, with Matt Giteau adding 12 points with the boot, while Don Armand and Tom White went over for the Chiefs.
The hosts opened the scoring with a superbly-worked score down the left after 11 minutes; Giteau, Alexis Palisson and Maxime Mermoz combining to release Smith who scorched over in the corner, although Giteau would miss the conversion.
But Exeter would stun their hosts with a try of their own just four minutes later. Jack Nowell had already come close when fellow wing Tom James swept past Palisson on the outside before slipping inside to Armand who charged over next to the posts for a try converted by Henry Slade.
A superb weaving break from Giteau unlocked the Exeter defence for Toulon's second try. The Australian left four defenders trailing in his wake before spinning out wide to Smith who powered over - the pass did appear fractionally forward, but the try was awarded after consultation with the TMO and this time Giteau converted.
Toulon stretched their lead through a Giteau penalty after the visitors were caught offside at a ruck, but Slade responded in kind after Smith had been pinged at the breakdown to make the half-time score 15-10.
The kickers exchanged further penalties in the opening 15 minutes of the second period after both sides had been caught offside once again.
On 58 minutes double try-scorer Smith was injured after an awkward landing leading to a reshuffle in the Toulon backline and the emergence of Wilkinson for his eye-catching cameo.
The England World Cup-winning fly-half would play a part in finally breaking Exeter's brave resistance, his clever inside pass released full-back Drew Mitchell who was brilliantly hauled down by opposite number Luke Arscott just short of the line, but replacement prop Xavier Chiocci was on hand to bulldoze over moments later after the ball was recycled.
Despite Wilkinson's presence, Giteau remained on kicking duties and duly slotted the conversion to move his side 25-13 ahead.
But Wilkinson would get himself on the scoresheet as he went over for Toulon's fourth try to secure their bonus-point, the 34-year-old taking a pass from Benjamin Noirot before crashing over next to the posts following a period of extended Toulon pressure on the Exeter line.
Arscott looked to have claimed a superb individual try after a surging run from the Toulon 10-metre line only for the TMO to correctly rule the ball was held up as dived over the line.
But Exeter did get their consolation shortly afterwards when Ben White crashed over from close range for a score converted by Keri Sweeney.
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