Toulon laid down a marker as they cruised to a 40-17 bonus-point win over Montpellier to move temporarily to the top of the table.
Up against a weakened Montpellier side, they did not have everything their own way in the first half, leading 17-14 at the break.
But they proved too powerful in the second 40, and ran in 5 tries, with James O’Connor scoring a brace to seal a second straight victory.
Toulon thought they had scored the first try after just three minutes when Rudi Wulf finished off a great Toulon move down the left. However the try was disallowed as referee Romain Poite deemed Wulf had got back up after being tackled by the covering Jonathan Pélissié.
In the end they had to wait another ten minutes before scoring the first try, with winger David Smith going over on the right.
It came after Montpellier had been penalised for going offside from a clearing kick.
And after a lineout deep in the visiting 22, Toulon used their forwards to draw in the Montpellier defence, before the ball was spread wide to Smith, who stepped inside the covering Pierre Berard to dot down. O’Connor slotted the touchline conversion to make it 7-0.
Toulon extended their lead thanks to a penalty from O’Connor when Montpellier were caught offside in defence.
Having chosen to rest a number of players, it looked like Montpellier were going to be overwhelmed, but they reacted well to score a first try after 20 minutes through Pélissié.
The scrum-half took advantage of some good work from Akapusi Qera, and was then able to skip away from the covering defence to go under the posts. He converted to cut the deficit to three points.
In a freeflowing game, both sides looked dangerous, but it was the home side who seemed the more threatening, with Giteau beginning to find more and more space and they scored their second try when he cut through the visiting backline before feeding O’Connor to dive over on the left. O’Connor added the conversion from the touchline to make it 17-7 to the home side.
They then caught a lucky break when Smith escaped a yellow card for a tip tackle on Robert Ebersohn, with the South African coming down on his side to save Smith from picking up a card.
But in the final minute of the half Montpellier got themselves back in it with a sensational individual score from Lucas Dupont.
The winger collected the ball on halfway, before cutting inside Alexandre Menini and Maxime Mermoz, then handed off Jocelino Suta before skipping out of Giteau’s tackle to sprint over. Pélissié converted to make it 17-14 to Toulon at the break.
Montpellier were dealt an early blow at the start of the second half however, when Pélissié was injured and had to be replaced by Benoit Paillaugue.
And Toulon ran in their third try ten minutes after the break after a great break from Smith.
Toulon then used their forwards to keep the pressure on, before Smith was on hand again to carry the ball, slipping it inside to Delon Armitage, and the former England man found Giteau when Paillaugue hauled him down. O’Connor’s conversion made it 24-14 to the home side.
The lead was extended a few minutes later when Montpellier were penalised in the scrum, with O’Connor on target from 45 metres in front.
He did the same again almost immediately when Montpellier tried to run the ball out of their 22 and were caught holding on, but that was cancelled out by Enzo Selponi when former Montpellier man Mamuka Gorgodze charged into a ruck and took out Paillaugue as he tried to dig out the ball.
But Toulon then scored the try that ended the game as a contest, with Giteau drawing in two defenders before feeding Mermoz.
The France centre played the two-on-one to perfection to send O’Connor over for his second. The Australian missed the conversion but Toulon led 35-17.
Toulon still needed another try for a bonus point and they looked to have it when the visitors messed up a lineout five metres out but Xavier Chiocci was brilliantly held up by Alex Tulou.
But they didn’t have to wait long, as from the resulting scrum Toulon piled on the pressure and eventually Armitage found himself in space out wide. Giteau threw the wide pass which Benjamin Fall almost intercepted, but he wasn’t able to hang on and Armitage collected to go over on the right.
Montpellier kept going and were rewarded for their ambition when they collected the ball in their own in-goal and sprinted all the way up to the Toulon 22, with the home side reduced to 14 men when Gorgodze committed a third offence in quick succession.
The visitors should have scored a third try which would have denied the home side a bonus point when Fall found himself all alone on the left, but the winger dropped the ball as he tried to dot down.
Still Montpellier kept going to try to deny the home side a bonus point, but the tiredness was clearly getting to them, with Selponi missing a drop goal attempt when there was nothing to be gained from the three points.
Tries: D Smith, O’Connor 2, Giteau, Armitage
Conversions: O’Connor 3
Penalties: O’Connor 3
Yellow Card: Gorgodze
Tries: Pélissié, Dupont
Conversions: Pélissié 2
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 David Smith, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Virgile Bruni, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini,
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Konstantine Mikautadze, 19 Mamuka Gorgodze, 20 Mathieu Bastareaud, 21 Steffon Armitage, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Levan Chilachava.
Montpellier: 15 Pierre Berard 14 Lucas Dupont 13 Robert Ebersohn 12 Wynand Olivier 11 Benjamin Fall 10 Enzo Selponi 9 Jonathan Pelissie 8 Kelian Galletier 7 Alexandre Bias 6 Akapusi Qera 5 Thibaut Privat 4 Robins Tchale-Watchou 3 Nicolas Mas 2 Charles Geli 1 Yvan Watremez
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi 17 Nahuel Lobo 18 Sitaleki Timani 19 Antoine Battut 20 Benoit Paillaugue 21 Rene Ranger 22 Alex Tulou 23 Emiliano Coria
Referee: Romain Poite
- Planet Rugby